Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword, “Grin and Parrot”
As in the title, each theme entry starts out having a B word (or phrase) that morphs into a P word, changing the spelling of the rest of the word. The resulting chimera is then clued accordingly:
- 24a. DEFENSIVE PAX (backs) works in some diplomatic peace.
- 40a. Boys n the Hood becomes POISON THE HOOD.
- 67a. “Based…” becomes PASTE ON A TRUE STORY. Wouldn’t you just say you were pasting the story, not pasting it on?
- 95a. Skiing’s black diamond level becomes PLAQUE DIAMOND. Aw, I wish it had been clued as a jewel affixed to an unbrushed tooth.
- 107a. SALAD BAR isn’t a theme entry, but you could see SALAD PAR working in this theme. Oh, except for the fact that it doesn’t change the spelling of the B/P word.
- 112a. “Secret ballot” is rendered as SECRET PALATE. Yesterday, the NYT published an article about bulldogs and the risks of air travel. It took them hours to fix the article online so that it referred to the soft palate rather than the “soft palette.” Did any of you read the article in the print edition? Did that have “palette”? (Sigh.)
- 4d. After five Across themers, we switch directions for four Down theme answers, all of which intersect other theme entries. (Fancy! But only worthwhile, IMHO, if the fill around everything is up to the same level.) “Beats a retreat” becomes PIZZA RETREAT. Yes. I am ready for this retreat.
- 16d. Remember 24, where Kiefer Sutherland played Jack Bauer? That name becomes JACK POWER.
- 66a. Given my solidly Chicagoan accent, I don’t pronounce the vowels in “bronze” and “prawns” the same. Aha! The Mac widget dictionary (New Oxford American) agrees with me. The “ah” and “aw” sounds differ here. PRAWNS’ MEDALS would be great, though. I’d like to see how shrimp do in volleyball.
- 77d. The sugar bowl turns into SUGAR POLL.
This puzzle vexed me. It took me a minute or two of poking different squares to (a) find a typo or two and (b) figure out those tricky crossings. IN A WINK? Dictionary tells me it’s the same as “in the wink of an eye,” but it wasn’t ringing a bell for me. 51d, [Title character in love with Elvira], ERNANI? I kept trying that as ERNANO. 81d, [Nascar Hall-of-Famer Jarrett]? It can’t be RED because that’s nearby in the puzzle, but TED is just as plausible as NED. And then the final letter of IN A WINK comes from 59d: [Ukrainian city], LUTSK. What the holy hell? As for that typo, somehow I had ARAPAHS/SPIRS. Really thought I’d entered ARAPAHO. And to the right of that, I had DUAD (which isn’t really a word, is it?) and didn’t see that it made the crossing AWRU instead of AWRY/DYAD. LUTSK! Oy. 3.5 stars.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Surprise Endings”
Movies! With the last letter of the title changed! I enjoyed this theme:
- 17a. [Song about Astaire’s arrival?] is BORN FRED (Born Free).
- 22a. Sally Field’s The Singing Nun becomes THE SINGING NUT, or [Steve Martin in his early days?]. If you’re my age or older, you may recall the “King Tut” song he sang on Saturday Night Live in the late ’70s.
- 28a. [What forensic shows take a close look at?] is THE INSIDES (The Insider).
- 40a. [New reality show about celebs on a pig farm?] turns The Sting into THE STINK. Luckily, no forensic clue for this one.
- 45a. [How you know that it’s St. Patrick’s Day in kindergarten?] is by THE GREEN MILK (The Green Mile).
- 60a. [Bite-size fast food?] turns Little Big Man (which I loved) into LITTLE BIG MAC.
- 63a. [Knight with bad table manners?] turns Ivanhoe (he was a knight?) into IVANHOG.
- 69a. [Mechanical bull for the kids?] clues ROBOCOW (Robocop). Hang on, we just hit the halfway point in our journey through the theme entries? Whoa. Fifteen theme answers.
- 76a. [The Big Bang Theory, in German?] clues DAS BOOM (Das Boot).
- 80a. [The Easy-Bake, for one?] clues STARTING OVEN (Starting Over). And now I’ve got John Lennon’s “Starting Over” in my head.
- 92a. [Elvis’s least favorite nickname?] clues MEMPHIS BELLY (Memphis Belle).
- 96a. TOY STORK is cute (Toy Story). [Item in a maternity ward gift shop?]
- 109a. [Mad magazine version of a De Niro movie?] clues TAXI DRIVEL (Taxi Driver).
- 120a. [What Beano is?] clues FOR ME AND MY GAS (…Gal).
- 126a. [What stockings are called in Indiana?] is HOOSIERY (Hoosiers). Cute! Saved the best for last.
The fill’s pretty solid despite the preponderance of theme answers. There are two or three 6-letter partials, none objectionable. Plus, SPONGEBOB! Just for the heck of it. Four stars.
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” — Sam Donaldson’s review
It looks like someone lit a firecracker in the center of the grid, scattering black squares all over. I like how there are no two connecting black squares in the midsection of this 74/29 freestyle offering from William I. Johnston—it gives the grid a unique look. I’ve previously noted that 74 words is higher than the usual limit for freestyle puzzles, but CrosSynergy constructors are allowed the freedom to play with this limit to some extent. Lets’ start with the elephant in the grid—SEPAK TAKRAW?!?Gesundheit! It may have 1.7 million Google hits but it still looks to me like a random arrangement of letters. The clue, [East Asian kick volleyball], is a nice recap of this explanation from the good folks at Wikipedia: “Sepak takraw, or kick volleyball, is a sport native to the Malay-Thai Peninsula. Sepak takraw differs from the similar sport of volleyball in its use of a rattan ball and only allowing players to use their feet, knees, chest and head to touch the ball. It is a popular sport in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Philippines.” Now for the cool stuff:
- TUPAC SHAKUR is a great entry to kick things off at 1-Across (and it nearly doubles as a spoonerism of SEPAK TAKRAW). I was happy to get it just from the clue, [First rap artist with a wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s in Las Vegas]. I’ve been to Madame Tussaud’s in Las Vegas but I don’t remember seeing Tupac there. For me, it was the combination of “rap star” and “Las Vegas” that gave me enough confidence to roll with it.
- Any crossword with TUPAC is bound to have FOX AND SOCKS, the [Dr. Seuss book published after “Hop on Pop”], too, right?
- [Dry spell spells?] is a neat clue for RAIN DANCES, a solid entry.
- Nice to see CARL REINER, the [Creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show”], in the puzzle. Someone should alert him that’s he’s standing right next to some ATTACK DOGS.
- The [“World Series of Poker” channel] was a gimme clue for ESPN, especially since I have a season pass for the main event. I know the whole poker thing is so five minutes ago, but I still enjoy watching good players duke it out, and it’s fun that the cameras let you see everyone’s cards. I’m pretty sure I could be a good poker player if I could see the hole cards of my opponents.
Does the fact that four of the six 11-letter entries stacked in this grid are single words strike anyone else as strange? RESTORATION, INFORMALITY, ADULTERATED, and BOUTONNIERE are interesting for their sheer size, but maybe not much else.
John Lampkin’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Seas the Day”
Ship/boat-related puns are the game of the day. Now, I’m on record as hating nautical fill, but I can now narrow that down: What I don’t like is obscure nautical terminology. John Lampkin’s puns, luckily, work with only the most familiar sort of nautical terms:
- 24a. [Course for sailors?] = ANCHOR MANAGEMENT. (Anger….)
- 40a. [Measures to ensure restful sleep on-board?] = BERTH CONTROL. (Birth…) Nice echoes with BIRTH and UTERO up above this answer.
- 64a. [The Red Baron, belowdecks?] = ACE IN THE HULL. (…hole)
- 72a. [Results of eating French fries at the ship’s wheel?] SLIPPERY HELM. (…elm)
- 97a. [Irrational weeping over a broken spar?] = MAST HYSTERIA. (Mass…) I like this one!
- 116a. [Philosophical shrug about channel markers?] = BUOYS WILL BE BUOYS. (Boys, etc.)
- 3d. [Positive report from a deck hand?] = THE JIB IS UP. (Jig.)
- 77d. [Bit of gear for a nuclear-powered dinghy?] = URANIUM OAR. (…ore)
Just as BIRTH and UTERO bounced off BERTH CONTROL, there were other answers that echoed one another. I think. I can’t remember what they were. How about the EMPTIES (beer bottles that are 52d. [Frat bash refuse]), DARK BEER (94a. [Stout, for one]), and LIBATIONS (83d. [Celebratory drinks])? I had an altercation and burned two fingertips between solving and blogging this puzzle, so I’ve lost those other thoughts. I didn’t know 25d: ROMERO as clued: [Classical guitar family name]. Horror movie director George Romero, Batman actor Cesar Romero… these are my go-to Romeros. The clue refers to Los Romeros, a Spanish guitar quartet that my husband has heard of even though they had heretofore eluded me. “The Royal Family of the Guitar,” they’re called. Really didn’t like the neighboring crosswordese of ROWEL (42d. [Wheel on a spur]) and ORIEL (43d. [Bay window]), so I took a stab at improving that section. It’s so easy! But it requires accepting nonexistent things like O’DOWL or SCRELS, so I failed to make things better. 3.75 stars.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Not as Good as Gold” — pannonica’s review
Words and phrases containing “gold” have it replaced with a less valuable metal.
- 23a. [Dull songbird?] IRONFINCH.
- 25a. [Mean disposition?] HEART OF ZINC.
- 35a. [Last-place finishers?] LEAD MEDALISTS.
- 58a. [Pet-store reject?] ALUMINUMFISH.
- 67a. [Lesser Bond villain?] COPPERFINGER.
- 92a. [Fielder’s booby prize?] TIN GLOVE AWARD.
- 106a. [Lousy retirement gift?] NICKEL WATCH.
- …and in recompense, 108a [Turn into gold, maybe?] TRANSMUTE.
This wasn’t a bad puzzle, but it was almost entirely forgettable. Nothing great, including the theme, and nothing hideous. Actually, the theme—with its relatively short entries—feels like an early-week puzzle expanded to a 21×21 grid; the ballast fill is similarly unremarkable, save for a couple:
- 94a [Ratty town of legend] is HAMELN, but that’s the German spelling, not called for in the clue. It’s akin to asking for Köln instead of Cologne without special instructions, except that Hamelin in its original is less well-known.
- 85a. [Non-Polynesian] HAOLE was, ah, foreign to me. From Wikichitlán:
“…in the Hawaiian language, is generally used to refer to an individual that fits one (or more) of the following: ‘White person, American, Englishman, Caucasian; American, English; formerly, any foreigner; foreign, introduced, of foreign origin, as plants, pigs, chickens’. The origins of the word predate the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook (which is the generally accepted date of first contact with westerners), as recorded in several chants stemming from antiquity. Its use historically has ranged from descriptive to racist invective.” <more>
But overall, with the short fill (nothing longer than seven letters) and no-nonsense cluing (save for the themers), this was a bland and sloggy solve. To crib from a couple of theme clues, an uncharacteristically dull and lesser effort from the usually dynamic duo of Cox and Rathvon.
Frank Longo’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 79”
Whoa. The folks who grumble at finding proper nouns in their crossword will not be too pleased with this puzzle. Heck, I love names in crosswords, and I grumbled all through this one. Here’s the name action:
- 15a. [Classic manga series] is ASTROBOY. Heard of it; know nothing about it.
- 18a. [Baseball : Cooperstown :: football : ___] CANTON, Ohio. This one was easy enough.
- 22a. LEGG [___ Mason]. Really just know this from crosswords, but I did know it.
- 40a. TED is [Keanu’s title role in a 1989 buddy movie], Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
- 49a. [“Batman” comic book character Montoya] clues RENEE. Who?? Never heard of this RENEE. Thought RAMON sounded about right, but with four proper nouns crossing it, it took a while to discover it was 80% wrong.
- 50a. [Worshiper of the sun god Beal] clues a CELT. Don’t know this Beal.
- 55a. [Fictional housekeeper who had worked for Winston Churchill] is TV’s MR. BELVEDERE. Never watched it.
- 63a. [Zoe Saldana’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” role] was ANAMARIA. Saw the movie, had no idea.
- 5d. [Fruit cultivar with russeted skin] is the BOSC pear. Guessed it off the B and knowing this pear was sort of red/brown.
- 7d. [Rich kid in “Nancy”] is ROLLO, as in “rolling in dough.” Knew this one from childhood.
- 8d. [“Little ___” (Ibsen play)] clues EYOLF. Not sure I’ve ever seen that name or heard of that play.
- 9d. [Weather Report member Pastorius] clues JACO. Who?
- 10d. [Texas birthplace of Dale Evans and Matthew McConaughey] is UVALDE. Heard of it, but tried UVALDO first.
- 36d. [Fly guy?] clues PETER PAN.
- 37d. [Pennsylvania university near Erie] is EDINBORO. Never, ever heard of this.
- 43d. [“We Shall Overcome” singer] is folkie Pete SEEGER. I associate him more with the kiddie folk songs I loved as a kid.
- 44d. [She fell in love with Endymion] clues SELENE. I tried ONDINE. Not so well-versed in the second-tier Greek deities.
- 46d. [Masked driver on a late-’60s anime TV series] clues RACER X. Never watched it.
- 47d. [Vektor ___ (bygone video game company)] clues GRAFIX. Really? Crazy-spelled words from the names of no-longer-existing video game companies are fair game now? Then I’ll be putting the Post Puzzler aside henceforth.
- 51d. [Mystery writer’s award] is the EDGAR, named after Poe.
- 52d. [Hotelier Helmsley] is LEONA, easy enough for people who are old enough to know of the Queen of Mean’s exploits (or too young, but do enough crosswords to see her name).
- 57d. [Celebrity biographer Hawes] clues ESME. Never heard of her.
Really? Not fun. CALL COLLECT, SPECIAL FEATURES, and RATED XXX are great entries, but how many solvers will even remember seeing them? 2.5 stars for this oddball trivia quiz.