Michael Dewey’s New York Times crossword — pannonica’s review
Another Monday, another NYT debut.
Avian similes today. Each of which is new (at least for the NYT, according to XWordInfo.
- 20a. [Soar] FLY LIKE AN EAGLE. “Doot-doot, doo.”
- 38a. [Tell everything to the coppers] SING LIKE A CANARY. “I tawt I taw a teft!”
- 51a. [Carefully guard] WATCH LIKE A HAWK. ” “
Only three themers, but all are lengthy and solid. Perfectly fine, especially for an early week offering. Lovely, lovely long non-theme fill, with SCALAWAG and NEOPHYTE tops in length and appeal. The CAP Quotient™ is low, with the worst being the abbrev. UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso), which always sounds as if it should be some lesser Egyptian demigod, and the partial RAN TO. Not bad at all.
I happened to be listening to this cultural snapshot while I was solving, so 1d [“The Three Little Pigs” antagonist] WOLF put a grin on my face.
The solve was fluid and easy even if the grid was a bit more fragmented than I care for. Not KNOTTY (47a) at all. Was surprised that XWordInfo (yes, that site again) revealed many of its characteristics (word count, open squares, average word length, Scrabble average, and Freshness Factor™) to be at mid-week level.
Was also pleasantly surprised at some of the clues, which did not seem typically Monday-ish to me. TORI as the plural of the geometric solid, rather than singer-songwriter Amos, or ‘actress’ Spelling. The cross-referenced (if slightly inaccurate in one case) clues for DARWIN and ADAPT. The playful [One with a freezing point?] for ICICLE, by far my favorite clue in the puzzle. Cute that the last across clue is [Finishes] for ENDS.
Very fine Monday puzzle.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Pay to Play” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Letter-addition themes may be the second-oldest gimmick in the book, that book being The Encyclopedia of Crossword Themes. (The oldest, I imagine, is “hey, look, these terms have something in common,” as in THE SUN ALSO RISES, OLD MAN AND THE SEA, and ERNEST HEMMINGWAY–commonly cited for its triteness.) Letter-addition themes can rise from 2- and 3-star puzzles to 3- and 4-star puzzles chiefly through one of two techniques: (1) a complicated letter addition, such as adding a rare letter like Q or a series of letters like J-A-B in a puzzle called “Add a Little Punch;” or (2) the use of super-entertaining theme answers.
In my view, the second technique is harder to use than the first, for what qualifies as “entertaining” really is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve had at least a half dozen submissions rejected or returned for more work because of one or two theme entries that were my favorites but ones the editors obviously didn’t like.
One of the things I admire most about Doug Peterson as a constructor is that he can take a simple theme and deliver consistently entertaining results coupled with fun grids. Today’s puzzles is a good example. The four theme entries are common terms ending in words that start with P. He adds an L after the P each time (that’s how “pay” turns to “play“) to get wacky new terms. Although the first one confused me, the other three were gold-star answers:
- 17-Across: HAREM PLANTS are the [Greenery guarded by a eunuch?]. My problem here is that I wasn’t familiar with the term “harem pants.” (I know them as “parachute pants,” thanks to M.C. Hammer.) So that made for a tough start.
- 27-Across: Any confusion was instantly forgiven upon the discovery of AUSTIN PLOWERS, clued as [Some Texas farm hands?]. I’m not the biggest fan of the Austin Powers movies, but I thought this was some great wordplay.
- 46-Across: Doug knows that I like the Black Eyed Peas (I commented favorably on his use of BOOM BOOM POW in a recent Sunday Challenge), but he may not know that I also like to eat the occasional black-eyed pea too. So I really liked the BLACK-EYED PLEA, the [Barroom brawler’s court statement?]. I like how the best theme clue accompanies the best theme entry.
- 61-Across: One [Bound for a scheming session?] can be said to be GOING TO PLOT, a play on the more lively “going to pot.”
Highlights in the fill include SOMEBODIES, the [Big shots], CHORUS GIRL, and the reasonably [Long odds] of ONE IN TEN. My favorite entry, though, was HOO BOY, a [Cry of exasperation] that I’ve been known to use after perusing a couple dozen clues on a Saturday puzzle only to have a still-empty grid. Is anyone issuing a demerit for ATE OUT and OUTLAW? In my mind, that’s not a duplication. But my mind is often lax.
I also liked the all-vowel string in OUI OUI, clued as [“Positively, Pierre!”]. That was about the only foreign word in the grid (unless you want to count the great MOMBASA or something like SIGMA or AULD that have been sufficiently grafted onto the English language), and all of the abbreviations are limited to very familiar terms like IOU and IDS. That’s just terrific fill for an early-week puzzle.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”
If you missed your chance to sponsor Brendan’s blog during the pledge drive (instead of a tote bag, donors received a 21×21 themeless puzzle, which was a fun solve), you can always use the “Tip your constructor” link on the site. This is his 400th puzzle for the blog! That’s like 10 books with 40 puzzles each. If you’re able to spare some change, I hope you’ve sent a little monetary good will Brendan’s way.
This grid pattern runs the risk of boring me, but only when the constructor fills it with a bunch of blah 7s. BEQ spices up the enterprise with these:
- BON IVER with a band etymology clue crossing PBS hack painter BOB ROSS.
- Chicken NUGGETS.
- Slangy talk. “DO IT!” “NEGATORY. I REFUSE! GAH.” “I HEAR YA.” “YOU DO? HUNH.” “AYE.” See? The dramatic tension is all resolved by the end of the puzzle.
- SPIDERS gets a Bowied-up clue, so it’s less creepy (tarantulas!) and less boring (isn’t there some sort of financial investment called a spider?).
- HOME BREW gets the out-there clue, [Blonde you might keep in your basement for months]. This clue would be appalling if it evoked some name from the news, or if there were an 8-letter word for “victim of a sick abduction.” But I went straight for a blonde ale myself.
No idea what this LOB CITY thing refers to—[2011-12 L.A. Clippers team, affectionately]. But I was ready for it because Tyler Hinman had sent out a tweet asking when LOB CITY would appear in a crossword, and Brendan replied:
Timothy Meaker’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Finally remembered this evening that even though the .puz file’s not posted at Cruciverb.com yet, there is a place to do this crossword without tussling with the new L.A. Times interface: the Chicago Tribune puzzle page.
The theme is a letter progression: Phrases starting with words that begin with B*TT march through the alphabet, filling the asterisked space with A, E, I, O, and U. BATTLE PLAN, BETTER HALF, BITTER END, BOTTOM LINE, BUTTER DISH. I got a stoneware butter dish as a wedding gift 20 years ago. I think it had been bought on clearance at T.J. Maxx, because the top isn’t perfectly symmetrical. I like the irregularity, which reminds me that building things out of clay is a messy proposition.
The four corners of the grid have bundles of 7-letter answers, and every one of those 7s is rock-solid. The clues were Monday-easy and I romped through the grid mostly using successive Down clues (the Trib crossword interface doesn’t make it as easy to change directions on the fly). The Down-heavy nature of my solve means I never even noticed the clunkiest Acrosses—ITER, ACEY, and APSE—until after I finished solving.
Theme that doesn’t confuse + easy clues + mostly smooth fill = a 4-star Monday puzzle.