Kurt Mueller’s New York Times crossword, “Nine of Diamonds”
Don’t let the title make you think the theme’s about playing cards—nope, there are nine terms typically found on the baseball diamond, but that are clued as if they have nothing to do with baseball. I know just enough baseball that the theme was pretty easy. In retrospect, I’m not particularly captivated by any of the theme entries, but they worked fine while I was solving. The fill’s smooth, too—I didn’t slow down to frown at any of the answers, which is always a plus.
I’ve got a houseguest, plus a brand-new comfy couch that is calling out to me, so I’ll skip the rundown of individual clues and answers and whatnot. Not necessarily a crossword for the ages, but certainly a fine, light offering. 3.75 stars.
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Thank you, sir, may I have another? What a beat-down! If I had any dignity, I would have shut off the timer shortly before finishing just so I could post “untimed” above. But dignity left me for another man long ago, so there my time sits, naked and a little chilly in the draft.
I’m attributing this embarrassingly slow time to having such a small wheelhouse when it comes to much of this 72/30 freestyle puzzle’s content. Check out this Parade of Unknowns:
- 1-Across: SPATCHCOCK?!? If this had been a word on the dictionary round of “Says You,” the fake definitions could have been: (1) a drywall paste; (2) a film genre noted for its use of excessive gore in tales of suspense; and (3) an STD. But no, it means to [Split, as a chicken for grilling]. I thought I had a decent culinary vocabulary, but this was entirely new to me.
- 19-Across: The [Shout before tacking, perhaps] is APORT! Um, sure. I’m guessing this is something nautical, like someone shouting “Aport!” to mean, “Hey, buddy, I’m on your left, and I’m about to tack!” To which I would reply, “Go for it, dude–just don’t get any on me.” I don’t quite have my sea legs when it comes to boating terminology, so for now I’ll just go with the flow.
- 33-Across: [Glimmer] is a suitable clue for GHOST? Really? Huh. I take it we’re looking at both terms as words describing a faint image. Or maybe we’re equating “a glimmer of hope” and “a ghost of a chance.”
- 38-Across: PENELOPE PITSTOP was apparently a [Late ’60s toon who drove the Compact Pussycat]. The only pussycats I knew from cartoons were humans that hung with Josie. Anyway, that’s Penelope there, to the right. I enjoyed this description I found online: “In many ways a traditional ‘damsel in distress’ stock character…, she is best remembered for shouting ‘Help, help!’ (which sounded more like ‘Hayulp, hayulp!’ in an affected upper-class U.S. South accent)…. She often figured out clever ways to get out of peril, and was very athletic; if any sport happened to be mentioned, she revealed that she was the women’s champion in the sport in college. Nonetheless, when the villain ‘The Hooded Claw’ grabbed her and held her supine over his head, she would somehow be incapable of doing anything other than yelling ‘Hayulp!’, and flailing her legs helplessly above her like an upside down turtle.” Sounds like a character that wouldn’t go over very well today.
- 49-Across: Today I learned that there’s a character named ABRA [Bacon in “East of Eden”]. In the book, she marries a magician named Ned Cadabra. She takes his surname and becomes…, well, you know the rest.
- 1-Down: The [“Twigs” tony winner] is SADA Thompson. I’ve heard of her, I think, but not of “Twigs.” Wasn’t she the one who played the mother on “Family?”
- 10-Down: I never knew there was a KERRY [___ blue terrier]. I kept wanting it to be SKYE. I like the idea of a Skye blue terrier.
- 11-Down: There’s a [Vietnamese statesman Le Duc] THO, though you shouldn’t take my word for it.
- 12-Down: You cannot fully appreciate how embarrassing it is for this history major to confess that I thought KING COTTON was a thing and not an [Old South secession-supporting slogan].
- 13-Down: THOMAS MORE is the [Creator of Tallstoria and Nolandia]. In a utopian world, he would have a second O in his last name.
- 34-Down: It says a lot about me, I suppose, that the first answers I wanted for [Hogan alternative] were MACHO MAN, STONE COLD, and C.M. PUNK. Turns out it’s a TEPEE. I take it both are forms of tents.
Notice that a good chunk of my ignorance was situated in the northwest and northeast quadrants of the grid. Sure enough, I spent probably 60% of my solving time trying to unravel these sections. Couple these unknowns with some pretty clever clues and you get the slower-than-molasses-in-January solving time. My favorite clues included [Tank occupant] for TETRA (it took a long time to let my mind shift from a military tank to a fish tank), [“I’ll take another”] for HIT ME (without a reference to blackjack this was really hard for me to figure out), and [Former Hershey’s employee who started his own candy company] for REESE (interesting trivia). The stack in the southeast (PETUNIA PIG, OVERACTING, and TIME SHEETS) is terrific, and my favorite entry in the whole grid is PENCIL-NECK. Classy Freddie Blassie would be proud.
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 68”
This puzzle got off to a grand start with the PAN-SEARED Mr. SQUIDWARD Tentacles in the 1-Across corner. But this 68-worder kinda lost me after that. I like SECRET GARDEN, but have never heard of it as a [1997 Bruce Springsteen hit]. WALTZ THROUGH, END-OF-LIFE, and SHEILA E. are great, but there were too many oddly flat phrases and wildly unfamiliar names. Who are RAE Allen ([21a. “Stargate” actress Allen]), RANCE Mulliniks (58a. [Former Blue Jays infielder Mulliniks]), and Leon GAST (29a. [“When We Were Kings” director Leon])? Not household names, I’ll tell you that much. And where is this DYKER [__Heights (Brooklyn neighborhood)]? Not in my parlance. AD UNITS (19a. [Half-page and full-page, e.g.]), HAND-REARED (32a. [Bottle-fed]), HARD LIMIT (56a. [Boundary that absolutely can’t be crossed]), WATER WELL (13d. [Drop-in-the-bucket setting]), and SLED RIDES (14d. [Some rapid descents]) didn’t really lend any oomph.
- 22a. [Biblical wheelman?] is EZEKIEL. I…don’t know what that refers to.
- 27a. [Worshiper of Mama Quilla] is an INCA.
- 42a. [Two Vivaldi concertos feature it] clues the LUTE.
- 33d. [Biggie in circulation?] is the AORTA, queen of all arteries.
- 24d. [Its flag has a 24-spoke wheel in the center] clues INDIA. The wheel is called the Ashoka Chakra.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Inserting a Little Humor”
The title made me think there would be a HA inserted into assorted phrases, but Merl stretched further and inserted the letter string PUN:
- 23a. [Jack-o-lanterns, in a manner o’ speakin’?] are PUNKIN FOLKS (kinfolks).
- 29a. [Departed from part of Pakistan?] clues LEFT PUNJAB (left jab). I like the complete flip in meaning, with “jab” and “Punjab” being 100% unrelated. Which is pretty much the case in most of the theme entries here.
- 37a. [Tabloid headline about a singer being fined?] clues CHER PUNISHED (cherished).
- 53a. [Rudely removed Lurch from the “Addams Family” set?] clues PUNTED CASSIDY. Apparently Ted Cassidy is the name of the actor who played Lurch. Who knew?
- 56a. [Where to buy green hair dye and body chains?] is PUNK MART (KMart). I like!
- 69a. [What the 97-pound weakling blamed his physique on?] are PUNY CHROMOSOMES (Y chromosomes). This chromosome would prefer to be in the singular.
- 83a. [Online columnists?] clues E-PUNDITS (edits).
- 85a. [TV series about an irrepressible lawman?] is SPUNKY MARSHAL (sky marshal).
- 99a. [“Always serve ___” (dog soiree advice?)] clues CAT PUNCH COLD (catch cold). Awkward to change a verb phrase into a long made-up partial with a noun phrase followed by an adjective.
- 108a. [Cause of a Peugeot’s flat tire?] is LE PUNCTURE (lecture). I feel this is inflected by Le Car, but that’s a Renault. Just random French puncture, I guess.
- 118a. [James Bond after a week without a shower?] is A PUNGENT OO7 (Agent 007), with the letter O standing in for the number 0 in two squares. Well played, Merl! Saving the best for last.
I don’t recall anything jumping out at me in the fill and non-theme clues (meaning nothing to grumble at but also nothing much to write home about), but overall it was a fun solve. Four stars.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword, “Ch-Ch-Changes” — pannonica’s review
Letter substitution theme in which the first syllable—but not the initial phoneme—of each original phrase contains the digraph sh, which is replaced with tch.
- 23a. [Result of a successful spell?] WITCH FULFILLMENT (wish fulfillment). Was sort of thinking instead of some sort of arrangement in which a certain number of witches would have to be delivered by such-and-such time. Would have required a tortuous clue, so the ‘original’ is better.
- 37a. [Written records of home plate goings-on?] CATCH REGISTERS (cash registers). Pretty good.
- 57a. [Assailant of Mr. Cassidy?] BUTCH WHACKER (bushwhacker). Liked this one a lot.
- 71a. [Legends of polecats?] FITCH STORIES (fish stories). Did not know that a fitch is another name for a polecat, or its pelt, and I pride myself on being informed about animals, especially mammals.
- 91a. [Fastening fabric samples?] SWATCH BUCKLING (swashbuckling). Liked this one a lot, too. Seems a natural cousin to BUTCH WHACKING, as the original is a single compound word and that salient ck sound appears.
- 105a. [Surveillance cameras?] WATCHING MACHINES (washing machines). Meh.
- 3d. [Paired tubers?] MATCHED POTATOES (mashed potatoes). Good, but kind of bland.
- 44d. [Problem when tunneling out of prison?] DITCHING THE DIRT (dishing the dirt). Evocative of The Great Escape, and probably every other escape-type movie. A perennial problem, for sure. My third favorite themer.
As I was solving, I didn’t appreciate the specificity of the substitution mechanics, so cast a gimlet eye when the sh sound appeared in other entries, most notably48d USHER, but also 64d SCHICK and even the second part of the themer 105a WATCHING MACHINES. For purity’s sake, I still think they should have been avoided, but I won’t judge too hartchly. So, it’s a good quantity of theme content in a tight grid, a good theme which produces a number of entertaining entries.
Did not care for:
- Awkward constructions typically found only in crosswords or esoteric technical writing: STALED, IODIC, MACERS, DONEE.
- Geographical crosswordese: NEJD, ORSK, OTERO (I had this one wrong, as ITERO, because I misinterpreted 82d [Saddlery] as a skill, rather than a business establishment and filled in TACKSHIP)
- 32d [What deci- means] A TENTH. I tend not to like appended articles in crossword answers.
- 99a. [E.R. command] STAT. Idiosyncratic nitpicking here. Seems to me STAT is more of a command intensifier rather than a command per se, but I can understand how it falls in the general category of imperatives.
- 53d WDS. Weak abbrev., but if that’s my biggest abbrev. complaint it’s barely worth mentioning now, is it?
- Slightly too high CAP Quotient™
- Does 103a [Fresh snow, to skiers] POWDER refer to only a quality (dry, fluffy) of a certain kind of new snowfall?
- Good longer fill in SOW’S EAR, full-name JOAN MIRO, ETHELRED (“the Unready”), RELATIVES, OMICRONS, ANCHORMEN.
- Cute cluing for 38d HIJACK [Take the A train?] and 51d OMICRON [Vowels from Volos].
Missteps in solving:
- Had STUTTER for SPUTTER (35a) and subsequently had trouble straightening out 13d from FELT TIPS to FELT PENS.
- 24d FLIES influenced me to fill in LIES (and resent sloppy construction) at 34a [Fluff] when the answer turned out to be LINT (and I had to silently apologize to Hook).
- For whatever reason, I couldn’t grasp the context of 115a [“For here __ go?”] even though the answer, OR TO, was forthcoming enough; got sidetracked thinking it was some sort of Hamletesque soliloquy questioning suicide.
Caleb Rasmussen’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “An Author Thing Coming”
Really enjoyed the theme—familiar phrases bent into authorial puns, with some cute surprises. Super-easy solve overall, I thought—lots of clever clues that were more fresh than tough, lending a light touch throughout. A handful of awkward entries (AMDT, NOLE, AT A RUN) weren’t enough to ruin an entertaining puzzle.
- 26a. [People who recite “Jabberwocky” door-to-door during the holidays?] are CHRISTMAS CARROLLERS (Lewis Carroll). Off to a good start.
- 49a. [Fictional tornado protection?] clues BAUM SHELTER. I like the Wizard of Oz tornado tie-in for Frank Baum, but I wouldn’t pronounce the vowel sound anything like what’s in “bomb.”
- 56a. [Periods when Harry Potter books are unavailable?] are ROWLING BLACKOUTS. The name rhymes with “howling” rather than “bowling,” doesn’t it?
- 67a. [“A Room of One’s Own” writer wearing a wool sweater?] clues Virginia WOOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING. Cute! My favorite.
- 84a. [Medical procedure done while reading “The Outcasts of Poker Flat?”] is OPEN HARTE SURGERY (Bret Harte). I feel he’s slightly more crossword-famous than literary-famous. Not quite at the same level as the other writers here.
- 95a. [“Salomé” writer’s pet?] is an Oscar WILDE ANIMAL.
- 113a. [Not as hard to pronounce as some 17th-century poetry?] clues EASIER SAID THAN DONNE (John Donne).
My main grumble with this puzzle, AMDT aside, is cluing LOLITAS as [Flirtatious adolescents]. Eww.
Four stars, for the fun.