Well! The last thing I want to do now is solve more and more puzzles. DASH was a lot of fun, but the puzzle hunt was basically an 8-hour outing. Meals and walking time didn’t count toward the solving time, luckily, but there was still almost five hours of solving gnarly, instruction-free puzzles. I’m tired out! If you want to check out the DASH standings, you can visit this as-yet-incomplete report. None of the Boston scores are in, and various other teams in other cities don’t have scores posted for all of the puzzles. Perhaps the Game Control folks will update the site by Sunday morning…
Xan Vongasthorn’s New York Times crossword, “Look on the Bright Side!”
Theme: Six starred clues are connected by the concept 110: “THERE’S NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP.” Like that final answer, the other six run one square too long for their spaces, and have to turn upward for the last square. Theme entries:
- 22a. WORST NIGHTMARE COME TRUE. This one Googles up about 630,000 hits, but felt not at all “in the language” to me and my husband. “A dream come true” and “your worst nightmare” are so much more familiar.
- 36a. THE SOUTH POLE, nowhere to go but up, indeed.
- 46a. ENTRY-LEVEL JOB? Technically, you can always go down to no job.
- 64a. BOTTOM OF THE CLASS—likewise, you can drop out altogether.
- 83a. ABJECT POVERTY? Aww, that’s so sad. Wow. Unhappy theme answer.
- 93a. ABSOLUTE ZERO, brrr!
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Before turning to today’s puzzle, I need to reveal the answers to yesterday’s Shades of Blue Quiz. Yesterday’s CrosSynergy puzzle highlighted eight shades of blue, so the write-up included samples of all eight shades and asked readers to identify each of them. This wasn’t an especially hard quiz–if you simply hovered your cursor over a sample, up poppoed the sample’s name. But to save you the hassle of doing that now, the shades of blue featured were, from top to bottom: (1) baby blue; (2) royal blue; (3) Air Force blue; (4) navy blue; (5) powder blue; (6) electric blue; (7) light blue; and (8) French blue. The first letter of each shade, in that order, spells…BRAN PELF? Oh well–not every quiz has a meta-quiz behind it. Enough about the quiz. That’s so yesterday.
Today we have our weekly freestyle puzzle, a 66/34 grid with a very interesting design. Unfortunately, the fill is substantially less interesting. Quad-stacks of seven-letter entries in each of the grid’s corners is a nice touch, but when the only notable entries from all of those 7s are maybe POLYGON, the [Math figure] and UTILITY, [One of a Monopoly pair], it’s a little bit of a letdown. There’s also a triple-stack of 7s in the grid’s midsection, and one of those entries, SKEWERS, the [Barbecue tools], has the benefit of a couple of rare letters. But otherwise there’s not much here to grab one’s attention.
I’ve mentioned before that freestyle puzzles with an abundance of uber-common letters tend to be less interesting. To demonstrate, I’ve played the “Wheel of Fortune Bonus Game” with this grid–I removed all of the letters except for R, S, T, L, N, and E, the letters supplied to a contestant playing the TV game show’s bonus round. Notice how much of the grid consists of these common letters (and I see now that I accidentally removed one of the N’s), especially the northwest, midwest, and southeast corners. Most freestyle grids have entries with lots of common letters–they are an important glue to bring more interesting entries together. This grid, however, oozes with too much glue. Highlights, such as they are:
- There are four 15-letter entries, and they get off to a good start with HEARTBREAK HOTEL, the [1956 Elvis hit]. Its partner, AS SURE AS YOU LIVE, doesn’t really connect for me, but after doing some research I’ll concede that the expression is sufficiently common. I’ll also grant that it’s more interesting than either of the other 15-letter answers: the [Nondrinking policy] of TOTAL ABSTINENCE and OPERATING SYSTEM, clued as [Windows, for one].
- To STANCH means to [Stop, as a liquid flow]. Can’t say I’m a staunch fan of stanch, but it works.
- Did you notice how the Crosswordese YEGG broke out of the grid and made it to the clues? I liked [Yegg’s target] as a clue for SAFE just for that reason.
- You know the Chick-fil-A ad campaign with the cows that urge us to “eat mor chikin?” I’d like to see Frosty do a similar campaign for SNO [Balls (Hostess product)]. “How would you like it if I returned the favor?”
Amy here: Sam! I like this hybrid game you’ve created, crosswords-meet-Wheel of Fortune. I bet a lot of sharp solvers could complete the RSTLNE grid without reading the clues, especially if they landed on a good spin and added another letter to the board.
Chris McGlothlin’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Unfinished B Movies”
First I did Merl’s puzzle, and fought through a zillion movie titles I didn’t recognize and had a deadly crossing made worse by a typo in the crossing. It was an entirely unpleasant solving experience for me. So I moved onto the LAT, and at first groaned to see another cinematic theme. But it was fun! Some of the theme entries made me laugh, and that’s always a good thing. McGlothlin’s theme is called “Unfinished B Movies” because each theme answer is a movie title in which the letter B is “unfinished,” with its final stroke not made. This turns those B’s into P’s, with the following results:
- 23a. [Film about an embarrassing fig leaf situation?] is ADAM’S RIP. Nice visual!
- 25a. [Film about winning the chicken breeder’s trophy?] clues SILVER PULLET. Is Silver Bullet that speeding train movie from around 1979? No, that was Silver Streak.
- 30a. [Film about great cornbread?] is THE LOVELY PONES. That sounds much more cheerful than a movie about a dead girl. Man, I love cornbread. Need a great recipe, though.
- 51a. [Film about where to put Melba sauce?] is ON THE PEACH. Again, a tasty dessert movie offers a light alternative to a movie about life after a nuclear apocalypse.
- 54a. [Film about clashing egos?] clues PRIDE WARS. Is Bride Wars one of those abysmal recent rom-coms?
- 66a. [Film about swabbing drudgery?] is MARRIED TO THE MOP. You know, ads for cleaning products try to make women looks happily married to Swiffers and whatnot. If you’ve never seen Sarah Haskins’ “Target: Women” video skewering cleaning product commercials, do watch it. (Warning: somewhat lewd material included.) You’ll never again watch one of these ads the same way. They’ll be entertainingly mockable instead of just boring. (82a: LYSOL gets a shout-out in the video, too.)
- 85a. [Film about Milo’s pal Otis?] is A PUG’S LIFE.
- 87a. [Film about a tick at a kennel club event?] clues PEST IN SHOW.
- 102a. [Film set in a sty?] is PIG MOMMA’S HOUSE. Love it!
- 114a. STARS AND PARS might be a [Film about a celebrity golf tournament?]. Not sure what Stars and Bars is, though.
- 116a. [Film about V-chip users?] suggests that adult material is being blocked, so the users are PORN-FREE. Nice to see a riff on a movie, Born Free, that has had its name kept alive for crossworders for decades because its lion star is named ELSA.
Four and a half stars from me because the theme brought its A game in turning B’s to P’s. It helped that I recognized most of the films, or could work out the new titles based on the clues. (Whereas Merl’s puzzle clued the movies by year and genre or subject, and that meant that I was stuck working the crossings for 11 or 12 of the 12 movies!) Weirdest answer:
- 33d. [One with backing] is a VOUCHEE. Sorry, VOUCHEE, but I can’t vouch for you.
Favorite fill: BELLY UP, a Volkswagen EUROVAN, John Lennon’s IMAGINE, and 69d: [Fax forerunners]/TELEXES strictly because we actually had a telex machine at the office in 1989 that received a message about once a year despite the existence of them newfangled fax machines.
Karen Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 56”
A classic KMT grid, with lots of Scrabbly entries and a good (for me) number of names. A solid four stars for this clean (no partials! Karen spurns them) 68-worder. Am doing battle with a headache this morning, so let me go straight to listing clues and answers worthy of remark:
- 5a. [Japanese emperor from 1867 to 1912] us MEIJI. Lotta crossings for this one.
- 14a. [Dentist Scrivello played by Steve Martin in “Little Shop of Horrors”] clues ORIN. Never did see that one.
- 18a. [Musical with a character named Lois Lane] is KISS ME KATE? Now, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Never did see that one. (Musicals + me ≠ good combo.)
- 20a. Amazon’s JEFF BEZOS is the [Founder of the human spaceflight company Blue Origin]. RICHARD BRANSON wouldn’t fit.
- 26a. [Inflammation of the spinal cord] is MYELITIS. Dang, my familiarity with medical terminology let me down here. I plugged in ITIS and waited for my brain to figure out the rest, but needed more crossings.
- 28a. A DRAMA QUEEN is [One with a histrionic personality].
- 34a. [Möbius function symbols] are MUS. When the clue is mathy/sciency and looks for a symbol, trying a Greek letter is often a good bet.
- 40a. [Where politicians often get excoriated] is IN THE PRESS? I dunno. Seems to me like there are many who go under-excoriated in the media.
- 43a. One’s DREAM CAR? [It’s not likely to be a minivan], no matter how hep the car companies’ ad agencies try to make them look. May I recommend the Ford Fusion Hybrid? Super-roomy for 5 passengers, but no, you can’t fit 6 or 7, and the battery reduces trunk space a bit. But it’s a lovely car.
- 52a. Fact-checking this one. [It’s easy to get down from it] clues an EIDER duck. Wikipedia explains that there a few methods of harvesting down feathers from various birds. Eider down can be harmlessly taken from nests, but goosedown tends to be live-plucked repeatedly from the geese, and some birds are killed for their feathers.
- 5d. [“Don’t waste my time”] clues MAKE IT QUICK. I wanted SNAPPY, but can’t object to a phrase with a Q and K.
- 13d. CHESS SETS are [Needs for playing mating games?].
- 21d. [Scrubs] are the people on your B-TEAM, not your starters.
- 24d. Man, I hope this wasn’t Karen’s clue because it’s icky. [Toothsome spreads] aren’t tasty dips, they’re CENTERFOLDS? Not a fan of crossword clues that make me enter the mindset of objectifying women.
- 28d, 29d. DEADHEADS beside ROB REINER, lovely pop culture combo.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “The Blankety-Blankers” —
pannonica’s Alan Smithee’s review
The puzzle’s note declares “Turner Classic Movies held its annual film festival in Los Angeles this past week, so I thought I’d hold one, too.” True to his word, Mr. Reagle has assembled a dozen films that share the same title structure: THE [polysyllabic-noun-describing-people-which-ends-in-ERS].
- 16a. SUNDOWNERS
- 21a. MUSIC LOVERS
- 26a. DAM BUSTERS
- 36a. TIME TRAVELERS
- 40a. SCALPHUNTERS
- 52a. LADYKILLERS
- 66a. PLEASURE SEEKERS
- 81a. NIGHTCOMERS
- 93a. MOON-SPINNERS
- 99a. CARPETBAGGERS
- 109a. JAYHAWKERS
- 117a. MIND BENDERS
Following the screenings, the credits run at 124a [The ______ (you and me)] is MOVIEGOERS, not to be confused with the (unfilmed) landmark 1961 Walker Percy novel The Moviegoer (sorry, I’m still CHE-lagged).
All right, it’s impressive to have so many theme entries, but truth be told, many of those films are not exactly well-known. Probably the most familiar—and I’d venture to say the best—is the 1955 Ealing street comedy The Ladykillers, starring Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom. I’ve only heard of a few of the other themers, and I consider myself to be more cineliterate than most. So while it may be impressive to have garnered this array of like-titled movies, there isn’t much satisfaction in completing the collection. Incidentally, 75d [Nimrod’s dogs] RETRIEVERS could have been clued as a themer; “The Retrievers  stars Betty White, Robert Hays, and Robert Wagner in the kid-friendly tale of a family who discovers a dog and her newborn litter of puppies.” (allmovie.com) Awwwww.
The remainder of the fill is similarly spotty, with just as many interesting answers and clues counterbalanced by the rigmarole of crosswordese, abbrevs, and partials (CAP).
- 105a. VERMEER, 1d JUST DECIDE [“Make up your mind already!”], 33d & 121d Bobby VEE & Ruby DEE, 53d YAPHET Kotto.
Wha? of the day:
- 80d. A [Term for the practice of standing astride to moving horses] is a ROMAN RIDE. Is this a “practice,” or just a stunt? I can’t imagine it has much practical purpose. In any case, the term is new to me.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe puzzle, “Linguistic Exercise” — pannonica’s review
Not too difficult to work out the theme of this crossword: phrases which include a type of exercise. Let’s run through the sequence.
- 24a. [Rolling Stones hit] JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH.
- 43a. [Optimistic] KEEPING ONE’S CHIN UP.
- 64a. [Shape shifters?] PUSH-UP BRA.
- 79a. [Acquire a good view] SIT UP FRONT.
- 97a. [Serving as a reminder] JOGGING ONE’S MEMORY.
- 121a. [Park, perhaps] PULL UP AT THE CURB.
- 3d. [Does the math] CRUNCHES NUMBERS.
- 48d. [Is clueless] DOESN’T KNOW SQUAT.
Eight themers, six of them 15 letters or longer, making for a muscular proportion of the fill. The phrases are all pretty much “in the language,” although it’s a shame that the first one across, with its dropped G, isn’t really how most people write or pronounce the exercise “jumping jacks.” Further quibbles: four -UP exercises—which is probably unavoidable here— and a bit of inconsistency as CRUNCHES is the only plural and JOGGING is anomalous because it the only one that isn’t performed in repetitions. I appreciate that the clues are uniformly terse yet toned enough to describe the answers.
Definite Scrabbly fill with plenty of Xs, Zs, Js, and Qs. Also nice to see some unusual words in the mix (SMETANA, CRITIQUE, MENISCUS (clued here as the physical therapyesque [Knee cartilage] rather than the more familiar curved surface of liquid in a container).
45a. [Bas-relief medium] is a poor clue for GESSO, which is much more commonly known as a preparation painting. Wikiyouknowwhat says “gesso is also used by sculptors to prepare the shape of the final sculpture (fused bronze) or directly as a material for sculpting. Gesso can also be used as a layer between sculptured wood and gold leaf.” Furthermore, bas-relief is most familiar technique in stone (although it’s done in a variety of materials, the majority of which do not incorporate gesso). Yes, I studied art history too.
Okay, time for some cool down.