Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword
As rebus puzzles go, this one felt a little joyless. Six squares containing OIL means a dozen terms containing OIL, and they’re really not a fun batch. OIL TANKER/OIL CAN, OIL TYCOON/OIL PAINT, OIL RUB (what? at a spa? really?)/OIL PUMP, OIL SPILLS/OIL RIG, FISH OIL/OILSKIN, SESAME OIL/OLIVE OIL? Reading the clue for 70-Across/CLEAN UP, I see that the OIL can be “cleaned up,” or removed from the answers without messing up the clues. (Completely missed that aspect while solving.) Yes, an OIL TYCOON is also a TYCOON, and both FISH and FISH OIL are [Fatty acid source]s. I’m not sure this wordplay find is actually fun, though. Either an OIL CAN or CAN is a [Garage container], but neither is particularly interesting. The foodie one is near, though—both OLIVE OIL and an OLIVE are in Greek salad, and SESAME (seeds) and SESAME OIL are Asian cooking staples. (Originally I had OLIVES/SESAMES here and it took me a good 45 seconds to figure out I needed an OIL square.)
Highlights in the fill include the CABOOSE to PIE HOLE continuum, MOLOTOV, the tasty GRANOLA PRALINE crossing, and “NO DOUBT” (which I bet Ian originally clued as Gwen Stefani’s band).
On the down side, with 13 theme answers, the rest of the grid is left in a thankless supporting role. There’s so much in the Scowl-o-Meter log tonight—LEK, TAI, OISE, ULAN, SI SI, partials A BAT and IS ONE, ESA, OONA, plural OLES, RESEE, UNHAT, and SILAS.
Two and a half stars for the overall experience plus another half star for the spot-removal gimmick, so three stars in all.
Patrick Blindauer’s Fireball crossword, “Making Faces”
Yep, five stars. For inventiveness, freshness, and sheer challenge.
I had the letters all filled in correctly but had to spend some time figuring out what was to go in 36- and 54-Across. Opposites? What? The first square in each is a colon (:), as the Down crossings need the letters COLON in rebus squares. The second square is a hyphen (–), as NON-U and HOW-TOS are both hyphenated. (This one’s a bit of a mind-screw as we normally disregard things like hyphens and apostrophes when entering crossword answers.) The last square needs an opening parenthesis in “DUDE (LOOKS” and a closing paren in “LIKE A LADY)“.
The result, if you have not filled in the crossword with a keyboard as I did, is :-( and :-) — two emoticons expressing opposite feelings. How cool is that? (Very.) When I was trying to figure out the third special squares, the “Making Faces” title definitely helped me make that last leap.
The clues throughout the puzzle were tough (my goodness, the TAJ/AXIOM/JAM/LEX area alone took forever), and I think that even without the special squares this would’ve taken me about as long as a Saturday NYT puzzle. It didn’t help that I don’t really know the lyrics to the Aerosmith song and that I forgot the title had parentheses.
Bill Thompson’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
It’s a straightforward Thursday – no question marks in the long entries’ clues. Should be an easy time, right?
- 20a. [When to say night-night] – BEDDY-BYE TIME
- 28a. [Ohio Stadium purchase] – BUCKEYE TICKETS
- 42a. [Advance sale teaser line] – NOT YET IN STORES
- 47a. [Dubious Himalayan headline – and phenomenon in 20-, 28- and 42-Across] – YETI SIGHTING
Oh, a hidden word theme with a tying-together entry. That’s – not that unusual. But four letters? Also, not that unusual. I guess the Y makes it a little tricky? Some might not like the split in the third theme entry – I don’t mind it since that’s a fun phrase. I can’t come up with other entries that fit this pattern off the top of my head, so at least it’s exhaustive. I guess when I think of this as a puzzle with with four fun phrases that happen to have a theme, I like it a little more. That’s a fair way to judge this, I believe.
Can’t argue with YO-YO MA in a puzzle, and I like BOO-HOO andUPPITY side-by-side. ADWEEK and TITMICE are nice, too, though I can’t imagine reading a magazine about ads. That just seems silly, especially if I’m paying money for it. TAG END was a new phrase for me, but it was intuitive, despite my wishes for NYAD to be NYAN. (If you don’t know what nyan cat is, take a stroll over to http://nyan.cat – but not at work.) Nothing else really stood out – this seemed like a very theme-heavy themed puzzle to me.
When Four-Letter Words Attack!—Look at the southeast corner – ISAO and OENO are stacked atop each other. That did not sit well with me. However, the grids I came up with to replace it aren’t that great either. Is it possible to finish this part of the grid where all si four letter words seem fresh? Maybe it’s just me, but four letter words just aren’t that interesting after so many puzzles.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Fast Breaks” – Sam Donaldson’s review
I confess to liking the “broken word” gimmick. No, it’s not original, but it’s certainly less trite than the standard “add-or-subtract-a-letter” gimmick. Klahn finds four two-word entries that have the letter sequence F-A-S-T as bookends. Thus, in each of these entries, the word “fast” is “broken” by a bunch of other letters:
- 17-Across: The [Christmastime dessert in Portugal and Brazil] is FRENCH TOAST. I like the trivia-based clue for what is normally a breakfast entree in North America. I suspect that in some parts of the United States it’s still referred to as “freedom toast.”
- 31-Across: Check out the advertisement for FAIRY DUST: [Think happy thoughts and it will help you fly]. Fine print: Use only as directed. Results may vary. Not recommended for women who are nursing, who are pregant, or who may become pregnant. Side effects may include bleeding, nausea, dizziness, and insomnia.
- 38-Across: [At maximum capacity] is FULL BLAST. For a select few rock bands, that’s “11” on the amp.
- 54-Across: The [Collar that probably won’t stand up] is a FALSE ARREST. Terrific clue!
It’s a Bob Klahn puzzle, so we’ll get to the other great clues in a second. But we must first pause to admire some juicy fill like EASY MARK, SAT DOWN, TELLS ON, and LAND HO.
Thanks for indulging me. Now to the clues of note:
- A lot of alliteration here, what with [Toulouse toodle-oo] for ADIEU, [Wacky Williams] for ROBIN, [Frodo foe] for ORC, [Music medium] for FM RADIO, [Kashmir cash] for RUPEE, [Grab grub] for EAT, the elegant [January gemstone] for GARNET, [Pastel purple] for LILAC, [Concave cooker, or is it convex?] for WOK, [Comic caper] for ANTIC, and…well, you get the idea. A little alliteration goes a long way, so this puzzle is a bit over-seasoned with it for my tastes.
- [Omission periods?] is a fun clue for ELLIPSES, though for some reason [Periods of omission?] sounds a tad craftier to my ear.
- I tried BAIT for the [Stuff in a trap], but, in my defense, this was before I looked to see the constructor’s name. The answer here is LINT (as in the “lint trap” or “lint filter” in a clothes dryer).
- [Superman’s sandwich?] may be a gimme clue for HERO, but it is still entertaining.
- Speaking of entertaining easy clues, I liked [He ran, then ran from, Iran] for the SHAH.
- I can’t say I fully understand this one, but [Milky wheys, e.g.] as a clue for SERA looks pretty dang clever.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s blog crossword, “Wipe That Smile Off Your Face”
(Matt Gaffney’s away from his computer this morning, so you get Amy again.)
It took me a while to figure out what the theme was, as I scoured the theme answers looking for hidden smiles. Aha! It’s the “wipe” in the title that’s key. Each theme entry begins with a paper towel brand: SCOTT HAMILTON, BOUNTY HUNTER, VIVA LAS VEGAS, and SPARKLE MOTION. What’s Sparkle? Is that a cheaper brand? Here’s a rant about Sparkle’s move to the “pick-a-size” half-sheet perforation. Me, I’m partial to Bounty select-a-size. Hell, I find many uses for the quarter sheet, personally, but there’s no perpendicular perforation to facilitate that.
Smooth puzzle, no trouble spots. Favorite clue: [Closing material] for VELCRO. Favorite fill: OXYGEN BAR, SUN STUDIO.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Beyond Belief” — pannonica’s review
Heathens to Betsy!
- 17a. [Without a prayer, and like 24-, 34-, 46- and 56-Across] GODLESS.
The four referred theme entries suffer from deistic expurgation. That is, a god or goddess—identified parenthetically—has been removed from the original phrase and the new one is clued. In this light, my exclamation isn’t accurate, as a heathen is someone lacking an Abrahamic god and the missing entities are not of that ilk. But I said it anyway. And deistic has a specific connotation too. *sigh*
- 24a. [Museum wing dedicated to small change? (Roman, war)] PENNY(mars)HALL. Director and actress Penny Marshall is probably most famous for the role of Laverne De Fazio in television’s Laverne & Shirley.
- 34a. [Movie featuring performers who croon into cans? (Greek, marriage)] SINGIN IN T(hera)IN. Singin’ in the Rain is one of the all-time most famous musicals in filmdom, if you like that sort of thing.
- 46a. [Determine the geological origin of, say? (Rome, sun)] (sol)ID AS A ROCK. A simile that’s stood the test of time. More than one popular song has borne the title “Solid as a Rock.”
- 56a. [Ave. in a ghost town? (Greek, war)] EMPTY ST(ares). «crickets»
The theme is clever, but the execution is far less than stellar. Let’s dissect*:
- Awkwardness and clunkiness abounds, both in the clues and the answers. Worst offenders are the abbrevs. in 56a and the phrasing of 46a, so the theme quality goes downhill as the puzzle progresses.
- Three major deities, one lesser (Sol).
- Three of them are four letters, one is three. Better to have them all four letters, or have greater variation.
- Three ♂, one ♀. For stronger consistency, have two and two, or all of the same gender.
- Mars and Ares are essentially the same entity. With only four theme answers, more variety would be welcomed. Why not include supernatural beings from Norse (e.g. Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya, et al.), Hindu (Shiva, Kali, Rama, et al.), or another mythos? I find it hard to believe that a couple of working entries couldn’t be found among them.
- “Empty stares” doesn’t feel like much of a phrase to me. Sure, there are over 46,000 hits in a Google search, but all of the ones that come up first relate to an obscure (?) Pennsylvania band with that as a moniker.
On the plus side:
- The location of the dropped name varies nicely among the answers. Both Mars and Hera come from the middle (the former at the beginning of the second word and the latter straddling the third and fourth. Sol would have been at the beginning and Ares at the end. It would have been too much to expect the position to progress through the themers (i.e., beginning, middle of two, spanning three and four, end).
- As long as it’s only Greeks and Romans, I appreciate that there are two of each.
The rest of the fill is strong and varied, with few entries registering on my Scowl-O-Meter. (Yes, I have one, too.) The vertical and horizontal stacks in each corners are especially impressive. Look at the panoply of interesting words, including CHORIZO, ALGEBRA, BHOPAL, NEOPHYTE, DAIMLER! I didn’t even mind the partial A NEEDLE [“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of __” (Matthew 19:24)] An up-to-date quality in BIRTHER and the cluing of LIANE [Hansen who retired from NPR last month] and ALTA [ __ Vista (search engine that still exists)]. I liked the Holy Land abutment of JIHADS and ADONAI, not to mention the quasi-bookends JIHAD and ALGEBRA, both from Arabic. SOMBRERO and NAKED EYE are additional highlights. For the puerile-minded, there is SEX [Group activity, at times] and POO [Crap].
Finally, 19a [Little auk]. The clue isn’t describing just any smallish auk (most crossword solvers will know that an AUK is a diving seabird, some will know that the great auk is extinct), but names a species. I knew this, but I didn’t know it was also called a SEA DOVE. On the other hand I did know the other, other name dovekie and the related guillemot. (Incidentally, the typographic symbols appearing on either side of crickets, above, are guillemets.)
*(peeve: never, never ever pronounce it /dī·sekt/ in my presence. I can barely stomach that in the wider world, but I hold the Fiend readership to a higher standard in such matters.)