I made my travel arrangements the other day for the upcoming American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, March 16-18 in Brooklyn. For more info about the weekend’s events and to register, click here.
Tony Orbach’s New York Times crossword, “Doing Without”
Tony “does without” by taking the word “with” out of assorted phrases, thereby changing their meaning. DON’T PLAY MATCHES becomes a sports thing rather than about fire safety. KEEP UP THE JONESES with your loud music and barking dogs. Feel GREEN ENVY on the golf course, experience DATE DESTINY, GET THE PROGRAM downloaded successfully. SEALED A KISS, I’M THE BAND, PASS FLYING COLORS, and I ONLY WANNA BE YOU round out the theme. These work well enough, but I didn’t find myself grinning at any of them.
And then there’s the Scowl-o-Meter, which sputtered into service with crosswordese and clunkers like EMDEN, RENTE, ITER, TAM O’, DEREG, EERY, PHEN, RANEE, and RENA. The 7-letter answers running across are good stuff and I like LAKE POWELL, DULCINEA, and CABALLEROS. But the shorter stuff just didn’t feel like Tony-grade fill. Usually Tony’s puzzles have a lot more zip to them.
One completely unfamiliar word for me: 69d HOLI, a [Hindu spring festival]. Googling… Here’s the Wikipedia article. A festival of colors? Oh! On An Idiot Abroad (series 1, episode 2, also featuring naked old Babas doing yoga in the altogether), Ricky Gervais sent his friend Karl Pilkington to be doused with hot pink pigment powder in India. So I didn’t know the name Holi, but I’ve seen a little of the riotously colorful celebrations.
Gail Grabowski’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Secret Retreat” – Doug’s review
Hey, folks. Easy, breezy theme today. As with most Gail Grabowski puzzles, it’s as smooth as peanut butter. And I’m talking about the smooth peanut butter, not the crunchy stuff. And not the one that’s peanut butter and jelly in the same jar. That’s just weird. Anyway, you’re not going to find blind crossings or bizarro entries in one of Gail’s grids. And looking over my nifty colored grid, I noticed that the hidden DENs around the outside of the grid are placed symmetrically. I’m sure that was unintentional, but it’s still kinda cool.
- 23a. [Lasagna ingredient] – WIDE NOODLES.
- 25a. [Vogue publisher] – CONDE NAST.
- 48a. [“Beowulf” language] – OLD ENGLISH. And they all drank 40s in the mead hall after Grendel was slain.
- 70a. [Arrival of royalty, say] – GRAND ENTRANCE.
- 96a. [“Works for me”] – GOOD ENOUGH.
- 117a. [Business identifier ] – TRADE NAME.
- 121a. [Scraps] – ODDS AND ENDS.
- 36d. [Concert band] – WIND ENSEMBLE.
- 41d. [“Little Fockers” co-star] – ROBERT DE NIRO.
- 122d. [Secret retreat hidden in this puzzle’s nine longest answers] – DEN.
A few more entries that caught my eye.
- 43a. [Gulf of Bothnia winter phenomenon] – SEA ICE. Bothnia sounds like a lispy version of Bosnia. Is there a Gulf of Thimbabwe somewhere?
- 2d. [Rossini specialty] – ARIA. I don’t want to get all hoity-hoity and highbrow on you, but I now have a favorite aria. It’s a Mozart aria. Nope, not the controversial “Dove Sono.” It’s called “D’Oreste, d’Ajace.” That’s a link to the YouTube video. But be careful, there are a couple of swear words before the video starts. Yeah, it’s that kind of aria.
- 11d. [Italian flatbread] – FOCACCIA. I could swear I heard this word in that aria. Maybe Mozart liked appetizers.
- 91d. [“Is that a promise?”] – “YOU SWEAR?”. My favorite non-theme entry.
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
There are some great entries in this 70/28 freestyle crossword from Will Johnston. Look at all the fun elements:
- In the language phrases! My favorite was NOTE TO SELF, but there’s also IT CAN’T BE and the AHA MOMENT. Oprah would be proud.
- Business terms! (Wait, what? Puzzles with business terms don’t excite you? Really? Well, they work for me!). The [Acquisition of “substantially identical” stocks or securities within 30 days of trading at a loss] is a perfect, textbook description of a WASH SALES. This is important for income tax purposes because you can’t deduct losses from a wash sales. Congress thinks the only reason you sold and immediately purchased the stock was to recognize a loss that you in fact expect to rebound into a gain, and the prohibition against deductions from loss sales is intended to curtail that kind of trading. There’s also UNDER WATER, clued here not with reference to Jacques Cousteau but instead as [Having a market value below its book value, as a loan]. Like my mortgage, for instance. Finally, there’s a NET PROFIT, the [Figure on the bottom line].
- People! I know, some solvers are less enamored with proper nouns in their puzzles, but I like ’em. We’ve got BRANDO shouting for Stella, some [Newsreel pioneer Charles] PATHE of whom I have never heard, YVETTE Mimieux, Joel and Ethan COEN, REGGIE [Jackson of baseball], [Jessye Norman] the OPERA STAR, and the late [Massachusetts senator before Kerry], Paul TSONGAS.
Other highlights included BAY LEAF, SKI SEASON, TREE RINGS, and ON ONE KNEE. My favorite clue was probably [Queen, for one] for DETECTIVE.
On the other hand, there’s also a fair share of Crosswordese, including my personal Voldemort, SER, an abbreviation for “sermon” (seriously, it is), clued this time as a [Sun. talk]. The other Crosswordese terms pale in comparison, but ENE, ONI, ESO, RES, ALEA, DCL, and NOBIS are still there. On the whole, though, the good stuff far outweighs this.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 92”
Somehow I knew from the start that 59a: [Tar in the toilet] was using “tar” to mean a sailor, and that the medical term tarry stools was not in play. It still took nearly all the crossings to see that the clue meant literally “in the toilet bowl,” and not “in the room the British call a toilet.” TY-D-BOL MAN! Here’s a ’70s TV commercial in which the Ty-D-Bol Man and the actress remind me of The Captain and Tennille.
- 10a. [Lutetia, today] made me suspect we were looking for the modern-day name of a city or country, that Lutetia was an old Roman name. Had no idea that it would be PARIS, but I’m pleased that my long-time solver instincts worked here. Must’ve seen the Lutetia = Paris thing somewhere before, eh?
- 17a. [Singing jester] is opera’s RIGOLETTO. I’m liking this because I just watched that Seinfeld episode in which Crazy Joe Davola dresses like the clown from Pagliacci. Clowns/jesters, opera, it’s all the same, right?
- 34a. PIE is the [Last word of the theme song to “The Jeffersons”]. Movin’ on up, we finally got a piece of the PIE.
- 53a. GORAN is the first name of [“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” actor Visnjic]. Ooh, he’s good-looking. Have liked him since he was in Welcome to Sarajevo, though that movie punched me in the gut, hard. After that, he was a regular on ER, playing a character named Luka, which invariably made my husband or me say, “Luka? He lives on the second floor. Pretty sure you’ve seen him before.”
- 21d. [Where jacks are high?] is not poker or another card game. It’s STEEPLES, as in steeplejacks who are people who climb steeples to repair them.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “A Regal Puzzle”
The theme isn’t about Reagle—it’s “A Regal Puzzle” full of regal puns.
- 21a. [His Majesty’s reaction to being called a do-nothing king?] = NINETY DECREES (ninety degrees)
- 29a. [What the royal jewelers did yesterday?] = COVERED A LOT OF CROWN (…ground)
- 45a. [Like some balls … of dust?] = UNDER THROWN (under-thrown)
- 56a. [Area near L.A. that the king considers his home away from home?] = PALACE VERDES (Palos Verdes)
- 68a. [What the king can’t resist buying when he’s in Egypt?] = THE PURPLE ROBES OF CAIRO (…Rose…)
- 84a. [Affliction from carrying the king’s ingots?] = GOLD SHOULDER (cold shoulder)
- 95a. [What the king desires to sire?] = A LITTLE HEIR (a little air)
- 107a. [Start of the king’s favorite parlor trick?] = PICK A GUARD ANY GUARD (“pick a card, any card”)
- 124a. [What the king and his gem-encrusted staff are?] = INSCEPTERABLE (inseparable). I don’t know what INSCEPTERABLE is supposed to mean in punland. The in- prefix means “not.” Inseparable from the scepter, but without any “separate” word root still in the word?
There’s a smattering of other royal/castle-related clues and and answers, like TIARA and BESIEGE and ROOKS. I might’ve liked the theme a little better if the theme clues had branched out to include a king and queen instead of just a king.
It’s time for me to get started on making a casserole for brunch, so I’ll sign off for the day with a 3.25-star rating. The puns didn’t happen to captivate me today, and the rest of the puzzle felt unexceptional to me.
Henry Hook’s Sunday crossword, “Roman Holiday” — pannonica’s review
Puns on familiar Latin phrases.
- 23a. [Unwelcome spelunker?] PERSONA NON GROTTO (persona non grata).
- 26a. [“I think I’ll hurry”?] COGITO ERGO ZOOM. (cogito ergo sum).
- 49a. [One out of lilac?] E PURPLISH UNUM (e pluribus unum). In the clue, “out of” means “from,” not “lacking.”
- 53a. [Coverlet trade?] QUILT PRO QUO (quid pro quo).
- 75a. [Enjoy a group ride while it lasts?] CARPOOL DIEM (carpe diem).
- 81a. [Legal writ in a grove?] HABEAS COPPICE (habeas corpus).
- 103a. [With great noise?] MAGNA CUM LOUDLY (magna cum laude). Deftly avoids repetition with 11d [Concentration thrower] DIN.
- 109a. [Crazy for fertilizer?] NON COMPOST MENTIS (non compos mentis).
- 3d. [Comment from a South Pacific tourist?] VENI VIDI FIJI (veni, vidi, vici).
- 59d. [Storms don’t linger?] TEMPEST FUGIT.
Now, I know that puns are often maligned, an easy target for ridicule. I admit that I like puns, but only if they function on more than one level, are clever. Otherwise they’re merely random bits of nonsense and absurdity (but lacking nonsense and absurdism’s implicit wit). One-dimensional puns feel the equivalent of a ‘crossword’ puzzle that consists only of across entries, and the vertical fill is gibberish. Unless there’s an implied criticism of, say, the wasted energy of some pointless lexical enterprise. Philosophical digression over.
So, in fewer words, the theme didn’t wow me and only occasionally amused me. Combined with some really obtuse, time-consuming crossings, my ultimate take on the puzzle is that it’s average at best, but frustrating.
The crossings that hurt me:
- 66a & 61d & 85a. [Turner of “Northern Exposure”] JANICE seemed just as plausible as JANINE; [Last of the Mohicans] UNCAS, but I was stuck at U_CA_; [Former Israeli minister Moshe] ARENS, but AREND or ARENT seemed reasonable too; I’m only familiar with Prime Minister Moshe Dayan.
- 46a & 36d. [“The Mentalist” star] I didn’t know if this was a film, a play, a television show, or what. Turns out to be a CBS drama starring someone named Simon BAKER. [Acct.] With B_PR in place, I still was unsure what the answer was, especially since I took the clue to be an abbrev. for account, not accountant. BKPR is an unfortunate shortening of everyone’s favorite word with three consecutive paired letters, bookkeeper.
- 7a & 11d. [TV’s “Bodies in Motion” fitness pro] is someone named GILAD. I had all but the last letter, leaving me with _IN for [Concentration thwarter]. In retrospect, DIN makes a lot of sense, but while solving it was very obscure to me.
- 40d [Small oil vessel] Of course I wanted CRUET, the answer turned out to be CRUSE, which derives from the same root.
- 86d [Pretentious sort] PSEUD. This word has always looked unfinished and just plain wrong to me, and I always seem to forget it.
- 42a [Cartridge belt] BANDOLEER. Would have preferred that the clue had a ‘variation’ indicator, as bandolier is the more usual spelling. Took me a while to suss this out, since SISQUI didn’t jump out at me while scanning for obvious misfill. SESQUI- is a prefix meaning one-and-a-half times [Midway between uni- and bi-].
- 117a [Tire] WEARY. This seemed an unnecessarily tough clue compared to the rest of the puzzle, as [Tired] would have been more straightforward.
There were some good clues in the puzzle (can’t recall them at the moment) and the construction was nice, with significant overlaps of themers.