Daniel A. Finan’s New York Times puzzle, “Working in Opposition” — pannonica’s review
The theme of this week’s puzzle is invented phrases that are… that are… what the heck are they? Quasicontradictory things. Let’s call them penoxymorons (even if it does sound like a new drug). They share the same structure, an adjective (or adjectives) preceding a plural noun. So, we are introduced to:
- 23a. [Capris?] LONG SHORTS. Not to be confused with Pippis, which are longstockings.
- 30a. [Domes to let in London?] ROUND FLATS. These are not tortilla shapes. Or are they?
- 38a. [Pre-2004 purchase from G.M.?] NEW OLDS, which is vaguely reminiscent of the television show The New Adventures of Old Christine (2006–2010).
- 47a. [Sour notes?] are FAULTY SOUNDS. Disharmony! Eris Torfold‼
- 56a. [Fractions of acres?] LITTLE LOTS.
- 70a is the puzzle’s centerpiece, bridging the difference between extremes. [Shabby wares sold at an expo?] are BAD FAIR GOODS.
- 83a. LEFT RIGHTS are, apparently, [What socialists campaign for?]
- 91a. [B and O, for presidents #43 and #44?] are LAST INITIALS. Choo-choo on that.
- 101a. [Career criminals?] are PRO CONS. Theme is approaching DefCon 4. Procyon is the genus for raccoons, for what it’s worth.
- 111a. [Material for a biographer with a recorder?] are TAPED LIVES.
- 121a. TOP BOTTOMS are [Best-looking rear-ends?] BEQ or the AV puzzle would most certainly have clued this differently.
I can’t say the theme sends me—well, I can, but I’d be telling a straight-up lie—because the answers aren’t really that interesting and although there are eleven of them, they’re relatively meager in length. “There’s an old joke: uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of ’em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.’” —Alvy Singer, in Annie Hall.
The remainder of the fill is similarly blah, more RSTLNE /'rist·lə·nē/ than Scrabbly. Changed to RSTLNI, the percentage might be even higher. On the plus side, the CAP (crosswordese-abbrevs-partials] Quotient™ is low, but this isn’t enough to save the puzzle from tedium. Paraphrasing Ogden Nash, I’d say that makes it medium, not rare. Honestly, I can’t muster enough passion to find material to fill Highlights and Lowlights sections. Not even a favorite.
Well, I hate to kick a puzzle when it’s down, but I really didn’t care for the 58d/64a crossing in the center of the grid: legal term SUA sponte/obscure actor Michael NOURI. In fact, I didn’t get that U and didn’t feel like playing swap-in the letter to “solve” it. Just can’t find much to say about this, so a brief writeup. By my lights, Amy chose a good week to have other obligations!
Mel Rosen’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Market Woes”
Mel’s theme feels like it should be in the Wall Street Journal, where business-oriented themes often find a home. Each theme entry uses a phrase found in business reporting to describe the movement of a stock price, and pairs it with a common object that makes sense with it:
- 23a. [“How’s your Ticonderoga stock?” answer?] = PENCILS HAVE LOST POINTS. My Pentel Twist-Erase stock never needs sharpening.
- 42a. [“How’s your Johnson & Johnson stock?” answer?] = TALCUM HIT BOTTOM. Ideally, your baby powder is cornstarch rather than talc. Talc is dangerous to the lungs when inhaled.
- 65a. [“How’s your Ginsu stock?” answer?] = KNIVES ARE SHARPLY LOWER.
- 88a. [“How’s your Moët & Chandon stock?” answer?] = CHAMPAGNE IS FLAT. Bummer.
- 109a. [“How’s your Aqua Lung stock?” answer?] = SCUBA GEAR IS GOING UNDER.
Whoa, just five theme answers? You see? Merl Reagle’s standard theme density really is different. Granted, three of Mel’s five are a full 21 letters long. And Mel packs the grid with a ton of 7-letter(+) answers, which I appreciate. L.A. TIMES is particularly apt for a puzzle that doesn’t actually run in that newspaper on Sundays! It should.
I was struck by a plethora of old-school or unfamiliar fill here:
- 48a. [Sightings] are ESPIALS. I can’t say I’ve ever had reason to use the noun ESPIAL, much less to pluralize it.
- 85a. [Stop legally] clues EMBAR. I’ll bet there’s a solid demarcation between EMBAR and ESTOP’s meanings, but I sure don’t know what it is.
- 36d. [“Putney __”: 1969 film] SWOPE? Say wha…?
- 40d. [White poplars] are ABELES in Crosswordese Land.
- 55d. [Surrey town in which George Harrison lived in the ’60s] is ESHER? I’ll bet I know what movie was really popular there in 1969. Putney Swope!
- 67d. [Battery terminal-related] clues the adjective ANODAL. Whoa. I’m used to seeing ANODE(S) in crosswords, but not ANODAL. My sister drives a Kia Sedona, which of course is ANODES backwards. It was hard not to notice when her license plate is her last name spelled backwards, y’know?
I have seen this tricky clue before—77d: [Two seater, maybe?]—but that didn’t mean I figured out USHER right away this time. As in an usher who seats two people at their assigned spot.
78d. [Disappear] clues GO MISSING. Excellent entry, that.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Get a Grip”
Merl uses the title phrase as inspiration for a set of “gripping” puns:
- 15a. [Veterinarian’s instrument? (and I’d be real careful with it, too)] = DOBERMAN PINCERS. (Pinschers.)
- 21a. [Response to “Where’s your salad”?] = IT’S ON THE TIP OF MY TONGS. (Tongue.) Classic Merl stacking of theme entries. Also classic Merl including a lot of theme material.
- 43a. [Hard time with a fastener?] = CLASP STRUGGLE. (Class.)
- 54a. [Tool used on a mechanical bull?] = CATTLE WRENCH. (Ranch.)
- 64a, 66a. [What a particularly difficult exorcism might require?] = THE FORCEPS OF DARKNESS. (Forces.)
- 75a. [Group that can handle any gripping need?] = THE VISE SQUAD. (Vice. Super-common spelling mix-up, with people talking about feeling like their head is in a vice.)
- 88a. [Gag gift for a fuzzy thinker?] = BRAIN TWEEZERS. (Teasers.)
- 114a. [With 120 Across, a book-seller’s spiel at a tool expo?] = YOU CAN’T TELL THE PLIERS WITHOUT A PROGRAM. (Players. I don’t know if this is baseball or theater.)
Eh. It’s puns. They work all right, but they didn’t make me laugh. I’m curious to know what BRAIN TWEEZERS look like, though, and whether neurosurgeons use them all the time.
There is sure to be plenty of Merl in next weekend’s “Callin’ Them Squares” post by T Campbell—the topic will be pun themes, and nobody does pun themes more or better than Merl.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Playing With Palindromes”
Boy, there sure are a lot of palindromes in this unusual-looking grid. Sixteen in all, ranging from 7 to 9 letters apiece: PARTY TRAP, ELITE TILE, STAR BRATS, SPA NAPS, KLEE ELK, TUNA NUT, RENO LONER, SEVEN EVES, DON’T NOD, KEEN EEK, PAGE GAP, DIOR DROID, MIRROR RIM, LLAMA MALL, NO STETSON, EVIL OLIVE. There you have it. No particular punch-line payoff in the palindromes, each of which is two words.
Fairly easy puzzle despite the inclusion of 16 made-up phrases, what with the solver’s ability to enter the repeated letters that go at the other end of each palindrome they start filling in.
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 57”
Friday-NYT difficulty for this week’s Post Puzzler. Frank’s grid spaces out four 15-letter answers and sandwiches them all between 7- to 10-letter answers. You get some nice flow through the grid with all the long answers, don’t you?
First up: Mystery name!
- 4d. [Director Dean whose 1988 short film “The Appointments of Dennis Jennings” won an Oscar] clues PARISOT. Who?? He’s not a very big name in Hollywood, certainly not much of a household name. But he also directed Galaxy Quest, which is a goofy delight, so I won’t grumble too much. Though his unfamiliarity did mess me up in 17a—I started out thinking that [Making more money, in a way] would be BEATING THE MARKET and left the T in BEATING INTEREST instead of BEARING INTEREST. I feel like “interest-bearing” is more in-the-language than 17a.
Second: This pop culture name is packed with common letters, but it needs to be allowed to die now from a crossword standpoint.
- 19a. [TV title attorney played by Jonny Lee Miller] is ELI STONE. The show lasted 26 episodes. Did you watch it? I didn’t.
Third: Funniest clue in the puzzle, by far—
- 11d. [Nude custodian, maybe] clues an art museum CURATOR. Ha!
Ten more things:
- 22a. [British military officers’ orderlies] are BATMEN. [Christian Bale, George Clooney, et al.?] would have been a fun clue, though the comix people probably don’t want us pluralizing “Batman.”
- 25a. [Eliciting a “meh”] means SO-SO. I have embraced the word “meh,” because it’s so useful. A mere “eh” has a multitude of meanings, whereas a “meh” is distinct.
- 41a. [Its countries have the same capital] clues the EURO ZONE.
- 54a. [Extreme jitters, in slang] clues THE CRAZIES. Not a term I’ve ever used. You?
- 1d. [Bad thing to fly into], if you’re an insect, is a spider’s WEB.
- 12d. [Exam welcomed by the claustrophobic] is the OPEN MRI. This machine does its imaging without the tube that freaks out claustrophobic people. Who likes to go head first into an enclosed space?
- 27d. I love this clue. [Sedan to be?] clues ETRE because in the French town of Sedan (and elsewhere in France), the French for “to be” is ETRE. Could not for the life of me figure out what a baby four-door car might be.
- 29d. [Neighbor of Formentera] is IBIZA. I’ve never heard of Formentera. Sounds like an ant farm to me.
- 31d. Not sure why OVEN is [Expansion chamber?]. As in “she’s got a bun in the oven,” uterine expansion chamber for a fetus??
- 36d. [Pepsi Center, for the Avalanche] is the Colorado NHL team’s HOME ICE.
Solid four stars.
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
It was the easiest of freestyle puzzles, it was the hardest of freestyle puzzles. Today’s 70/26 offering has it all: good stuff, bad stuff, easy stuff, hard stuff. Let’s break it down:
- The Easy Stuff. You can’t get an easier clue for ODOMETER than [Mileage counter], and the clues for the other two entries in the southwest stack ([Wedding wish list] for REGISTRY and [Broad-minded] for TOLERANT) aren’t much tougher. But I will confess that I wanted the answer for [Broad-minded] to be FEMINIST. The [Beer named for a Tea Party leader], SAM ADAMS, might have put up a little more resistance had the same entry not appeared in a very recent Hall-Of-Fame caliber NYT by David Quarfoot (and in the same location of the grid, I believe).
- The Hard Stuff. Um, that’s Giuseppe GUARNERI DEL GESU, by a long shot. This [Maker of violins used by Paganini, Heifetz, and Perlman] is completely foreign to me. Heck, I thought Guarneri was the guy’s first name and “Delgesu” was his surname. I would have accepted (and indeed, I tried) most any combination of letters here–it was all nonsense to me. (But to be clear, that’s my problem–not that of the puzzle.) I would also submit that QR CODE, the [Black and white square pattern read by camera phones] is a toughie. I understand the “QR” stands for “quick response.” In this grid, it makes that section “quite rough.”
- The Good Stuff. I loved [<3, for example] as a clue for EMOTICON. It means, “my heart is broken and it can’t get up.” LATIN LOVERS, the [1953 film featuring Lana Turner and Ricardo Montalban], is also nice. I believe this is the film with the climactic scene where Turner screams, “Khaaan!” Other great entries include TRASH TALKER, the [Player who uses taunting during a game], and SCALAWAG, the [Reprobate].
- The Bad Stuff. No one can be pleased with LDRS, the [Ones in charge (abbr.)]. REBIND, clued as [Put new covers on] is similarly awkward. And I’ve never been a fan of OSIER, the [Willow twig].
It’s usually not a good sign when the 11-letter and 8-letter fill is more lively than the 15-letter fill in a freestyle grid. If I was a Guarneri buff I would probably rate it higher, but I’ll give this solid if not stellar puzzle three stars. How say you?
LA Times: I had DEBAR, not ESTOP, for EMBAR.
Putney Swope is Robert Downey, Sr’s most well-known movie, but his true masterpiece is Greaser’s Palace, which stars Allan Arbus (remember the psychiatrist Sidney from M*A*S*H?) as a zoot-suited Christ figure in a hallucinatory Southwest.
WaPo: PARISOT completely unfamiliar, but put me in mind of author Sébastien Japrisot (real name Jean-Baptiste Rossi).
NYT: Liked the idea a lot! It bothered me having real (and nearly real) entries mixed with made up ones… I’m sure LONGSHORTS is a thing, TAPEDLIVE (minus S) definitely is! Didn’t get NOURI/SUA either; I’m not upset at myself for writing in NOORI/SOA, knew neither entry and I don’t see how that was especially guessable!
Merl’s was the most fun — I can’t wait to see the summary of punny puzzles next week. TONGS for Tongue gave away the theme instantly, but it was still a blast! FORCEPS OF DARKNESS — wow. And BRAIN TWEEZERS made me think of Pooh, the Bear of Little Brain, getting delicately repaired. Definitely INgenious!
TRIPmeter tripped me up.
I don’t remember seeing ABELES before. I hope I remember it next time.
Actually “<3" is just a heart, not a broken one. Nice clue!
Didn't care for the NYT. Write up sums up my feelings.
GUARNERI DEL GESU is so out-there I kind of liked it. No hope of getting it though.
Liked PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ in the WaPo, but the other 15s are kind of boring. MACHINE READABLE?
I got carried away with the Palindromes – I had “AntiTNA” for “Pro Abstinence” for a long time. I realize the actual phrase is “T and A”, but I thought maybe it was a common variant.
NYT: Risibles was laughable but not in the good sense. Risible, I know, but would never use. Risibles means sense of humor? Have you ever in your life (I’m just curious; perhaps I mingle with the wrong people) heard anyone who has a sense of humor described as having risibles? I wouldn’t know how to use it in a sentence. Has risibles? Got risibles? He’s risibles?
I’d be sympathetic if someone told me another person had risibles. Then I’d go google their fate.
@bertie: Indeed, <3 just means heart. Hard to believe Sam (who should write puzzle reviews for a living – he's always better than the crosswords) didn't know that.
GUARNERI DEL GESU does not belong in a crossword. Full stop, period, end of story.
To non-texters, “19<37" is a mathematical truism. To texters, it's the tale of a prime love affair.
I liked the theme more than Amy, in part because the short theme entries meant more frequent theme entries, so pleasure at seeing the joke pushed to its limits. I also enjoyed that the central entry had a third alternative befitting its place in the puzzle. But I didn’t care nearly as much for the fill. It had tons of Monday-level clues but also a heavy pop names and other trivia. In fact, I figured everyone would like the puzzle more than I did.
Besides NOURI SUA, I faced BIAS TIRE ESTES, SKIRT (or shirt?) KERRI, DIDO ELISHA, and way too much more.
@John H: You mean pannonica, not Amy. I dodged blogging that one because I was out of town.
Re: Merl Reagle’s “Get a grip” — In the Washington Post Sunday magazine, the clue for 64a with 66a was “a surgical instrument you can see even when the lights go out?” Of course the answer is the same, but I wonder why I got an entirely different clue than you got in your Philadelphia Inquirer? Do you think the Post was squeamish about using the word exorcism?? Seems odd…
@Laurie, I know Merl provides a tremendous amount of service to the different venues to which he syndicates his puzzle, tweaking clues to fit a paper’s preferred style. Newspapers may also have a copyeditor go through puzzle clues to edit for house style and fact-check. (The Chicago Tribune’s syndication department did just that when they offered the TMS crossword.) I don’t know which (both?) was the case here.