Tim Croce’s New York Times crossword
I love a good 1-Across! MAN BAG is a great term. Now, you don’t have to be a metrosexual to carry a MAN BAG, but it helps.
I don’t love a fusty old crosswordese place name 14-Across, though. AMARNA is a thing I learned from other crosswords. And a 6-Down I also learned from a crossword, Alphonse and GASTON of old, old comics.
Anyway! The theme. It’s add-a-Q. A traditional (non-Roth) IRA becomes TRADITIONAL IRAQ, clued perfectly as [Mesopotamia?]. Gymnastics equipment yields UNEVEN BARQ’S. A few weeks ago, we took my kid’s friend out to eat with us. Friend ordered root beer, I ordered diet Coke. Waitress mixed up our glasses. Kid made a disappointed face, whereas I kept taking sips, thinking “something’s not quite right here, but this is delicious and I would like to keep drinking it.” COUNTY FAQIR and QATARI COMPUTERS (“Atari Computers” is barely a thing, am I right?) make the theme three-quarters Middle Eastern Qs.
Good stuff: PHYSIQUE, MEH, HIT A SNAG, MOJO, JOHN MAYER (the crossword entry, not the singer), ANTIGUA of “Antigua and Barbuda” fame (thank you, Sporcle.com geography quizzes, for firmly planting that in my brain). Less good stuff: plural Spanish OROS, boring soapy OLEIC ACID, “what are those?” T-STOPS, Peter “I know your cartoon career from crosswords” ARNO. I wouldn’t like AEF, except I think my maternal grandmother’s uncle served in the American Expeditionary Force.
Ben Tausig’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
I made a couple wrong turns in figuring out the theme here. With 1a: AOL OK, I decided it would be phrases in which each letter was pronounced separately. Then I got 20a: AREOLA FIFTY-ONE, and I saw clearly that it was an add-LA theme. Except that it’s not: it’s add OL. Like so:
- 1a. [Headline the day after an internet company narrowly avoids bankruptcy?] is AOL OK. A-OK adopts an OL here.
- 20a. [Wardrobe malfunction covered up by the government?] clues AREOLA FIFTY-ONE. Funny! You know what I learned on Facebook this week? That I’ve been pronouncing that word wrong my whole life. Apparently it’s “uh-REE-ola,” not “AIR-ee-ola.”
- 36a/66a. [Graduation present for a dinosaur?] is a TYRANNOSAURUS ROLEX. It’s big, it’s got to be durable, it’s a Rolex. What do you think it’s priced at?
- 54a. [Goof-up during a cult ritual?] clues SACRIFICE FOLLY. See? That’s what you do with baseball terminology. You meld it with human (or maybe goat) sacrifice, and then you’ve got something interesting.
- 25a. DON’T GO! [“I can’t stay in this godforsaken place all alone!”]
- 31a. [“Only You” band] is YAZ, the one with Alison Moyet. Not the other one (singer Yazz) I only heard of recently and was irritated to learn about. How I loved “Only You” when I was in college! Go have a listen.
- 45a. [Thai curry type] is PANANG. This is a highlight because I plunked it in the grid with either one or no crossing letter.
- 7d. [Language spoken by M.I.A.] is TAMIL. I like this one because it was also a gimme. I don’t know hermusic at all, but I know her linguistic background. Thanks, Wikipedia!
- 12d. [Certain dumpster divers] are FREEGANS. Technically, “Dumpster” is a trademark and should be capitalized but I’m partial to the lowercase d.
- 48d. GAY SEX was the [Subject of a groundbreaking 2009 “One Life to Live” scene].
Who is 10d: [Anticolonialist author Frantz] FANON? To the Wiki! You gotta read this guy’s life story.
Who are 37d: YEASAYER, the [Brooklyn band with the album “Odd Blood”]. “Experimental rock, psychedelic pop.”
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Wise Guys” – Sam Donaldson’s review
It’s simple really: Fun theme + good execution = superb crossword. Fellow Fiend blogger Doug makes it look so easy, doesn’t he? Let’s look under the hood to see what all goes into the construction of this puzzle.
It starts with the theme. Here, we add a “Y” to the end of common two-word expressions to get a new two-word expression that ends with the name of a famous man—hence we have “Y’s guys.” Here are the theme entries:
- 20-Across: [Stengel, after joining the CIA?], would be a FEDERAL CASEY.
- 28-Across: [Marciano, after being convicted?], is a JAILHOUSE ROCKY.
- 42-Across: [Guthrie, after seeing a ghost?] is a PETRIFIED WOODY. My inner 10 year-old loves that entry for reasons that have nothing to do with Mr. Guthrie.
- 48-Across: [Crystal, after missing his flight?], is an OVERDUE BILLY.
To make this theme work so well, you can’t just slap a Y onto the end of any ol’ expression that happens to make a guy’s name. BALSA WOODY, for instance, wouldn’t be as elegant because it just doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone term. Yes, it’s all about wackiness, but the best kind of wackiness is the wackiness that’s almost believable, as if you can imagine a situation where someone might actually use the expression. That’s what makes PETRIFIED WOODY (and the other theme entries) so good.
Then there’s the grid. It sports only eight 3-letter entries, and six of those are shoved into the corners. The rest of the grid is nice and open with lots of 6-letter entries and a few 7’s and 8’s to boot. I liked PRAY TO, BLUE NILE, and AUTEURS best. There’s quite a bit of pop culture here (consider TAMMY Wynette, the hilarious and hot JAIME Pressly of “My Name Is Earl,” the COENS, Steffi GRAF, XENA the warrior princess—as if there are other Xenas with whom she could be confused, Rona or Sam JAFFE, and Lee J. COBB, et alia), but that’s fine by me. More importantly, there’s no clunky abbreviation and little in the way of foreign terms (a little DREI now and then never hurt anyone).
In the clue department, I especially liked [Returned a call?] for ECHOED. I also liked [Adjective for Olive Oyl] as the clue for SKINNY and [Word with pocket or socket] for HIP.
Richard Mausser’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The retro theme answers are fun, but the theme is missing a step by saying that 23d: DIGITAL is the [Word that can bring the ends of the starred answers up to date]. I think the theme would have worked much better without the DIGITAL tie-in.
- 17a. [*Retro viewer] clues BLACK AND WHITE TV. A regular analog color TV with a picture tube is what was supplanted by digital TVs as well as high-definition sets and flat-screen technologies.
- 28a. [*Retro imager] clues POLAROID CAMERA. A regular film camera is even more retro than a Polaroid, no?
- 43a. [*Retro recorder] clues EIGHT-TRACK TAPE. What is “digital tape”? It’s nothing anyone is using now, right? Or are we to take “digital tape recorder” from this? There are digital voice recorders that use no tape. Eight-tracks were replaced by cassettes, which in turn were replaced by CDs, which have now largely been supplanted by digital downloads. The focus on tape/digital tape just feels wrong.
- 57a. [*Retro dialer] is a ROTARY TELEPHONE. So, what’s a “digital telephone”? Are we talking about the newest cordless phone systems here, or cellphones? This doesn’t make any sense to me.
I would have enjoyed the theme much more if it were presented as a collection of retro technologies that people younger than 35 or 40 may never have encountered in person.
In the fill, I liked BEESWAX and POTPIE but hardly anything else. Starting out with 1- through 5-Down, we have ARBS, RELO, URAL, BUCO, and ANKARAN. Any of those grab you? No? I fret that the constructor consciously pursued pangrammatic fill, but is it worth it when you get your Q and Z via REQ and TZUS? I say no.
I love the four Across theme answers as a set, but the DIGITAL twist and the fill left me cold. Is two stars too harsh a review?