Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword
Oddly enough, this puzzle took me exactly as long as last Thursday’s Gorski NYT. I relished the theme: Six rebus squares work two ways: the numerals 2 through 6 in the Down dimension and the letters spelling out the special characters that dwell above those numbers on the keyboard and are accessed via SHIFT KEY + [number]. SASQU[at, @]CH crosses 2-PAC Shakur. EX[pound, #]ING crosses 3-D TV. SAND [dollar, $] crosses the Toyota 4-RUNNER. [Percent, %]AGES meets MAROON 5. And [caret, ^]AKERS intersects with MOTEL 6. (That one’s my favorite, where care/takers gets an unexpected split into caret/akers… although Sasqu@ch is a close second.) Completely unforced, natural rebus answers in both directions, with near-symmetry of the theme answers (2-PAC lacks a partner radiating off the SHIFT KEY, and the 3 and 6 answers radiate up/down from a different letter in their Across partners). Really a terrific, creative, and fun theme.
Now, the tradeoff is a touch of hoary crosswordese (AMAH! ESSE!) and some uninspiring shorter fill, but the grid also includes SWEET PEA, RAP MUSIC, NO CONTEST, AMARETTO, HASIDIC ZODIACS (wait, are those a real thing?), the marine IGUANA of the Galapagos, and a word that looks super-hoary, GROATS. There’s something about that word that appeals to me despite its utter lack of relevance to my life. Checking the dictionary… From the Old English grotan—see? Crazy old words that have been in English for so many centuries have a certain charm to them. (See also: my enduring fondness for older English words with Norse roots.)
Although the theme is confined to the numbers 2 through 6, it was distracting to have DOOR ONE and ZERO ON IN parked in the grid. Spelled-out numbers? In a crazy numerals-meet-special-characters double-barreled rebus puzzle? I can’t be the only one who slowed down like this was a Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest puzzle and ZERO and ONE might hold the key to a mental breakthrough.
Peter Collins’ Fireball crossword, “The Joint Is Jumpin'”
I like the two levels on which this puzzle’s title work: If the joint is jumpin’, it’s a hip and happening place. And the joint that’s jumpin’ here is the HIP in all those HIP REPLACEMENTS people are having these days. The theme—which reminds me of a brilliant Henry Hook HEART TRANSPLANT puzzle from several years back—moves a HIP from two phrases (let us call them the cadaver donors) and transplants it into new phrases. Wait. Technically, I think hip replacements involve high-tech materials rather than cadaver bone. But I digress.
“Chip off the old block” gets alphabet block action as C OFF THE OLD BLOCK, with that HIP deposited into Dow Jones to make DO WHIP JONES. STARS’ ENTERPRISE drops its Trekkie (s)hip into apple pie to create a Frankenstein monster of an APPLE HIPPIE.
Took a while to figure out what was happening but then the puzzle gave up its secrets and it was all over. Highlights in the fill: PET ROCKS opposite a PET ITMAL, Keira KNIGHTLEY, CHAZ Bono. Favorite clues:
- 43a. [Oyster crackers] for OTTERS. Love it!
- 33d. [Where workers unite], the bee HIVE.
- 15a. [Word pronounced two ways, either of which can follow “hot”], LEAD. “I got a hot lead on who pumped Duffy full of hot lead.”
- 16a. [1982 Flock of Seagulls hit subtitled “So Far Away”], “I RAN.” The music video for this song was so captivating in its badness. Insane flipped-over hairdo, mirrors everywhere, heavy synthesizer action. This song should really be in the soundtrack of every news story about Iran.
- 60a. [Numbers on letters], ZIPS. As in ZIP codes on letters in the mail.
- 44d. [Stand out?], ALIBI. When you want to get out of something on the witness stand.
Biggest negative: ELKE clued as [German model Krivat who was married to Ben Gazzara]. Who?? Give us a boring clue for ELKE Sommer or get the answer out of the puzzle—I think those are your choices. 800,000 Google hits for Sommer versus fewer than 12,000 hits? Krivat’s gotta go.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Hang Around” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Each of the 15-letter theme answers starts with HA- and ends with -NG (thus, you get HANG “around” the 11 letters inside):
- 17-Across: [Vocational school instruction] can be called HANDS-ON TRAINING.
- 24-Across: To [Possess evidence of an agreement] is to HAVE IT IN WRITING.
- 42-Across: If [It won’t hurt one’s feelings] it can be considered HARMLESS TEASING.
- 56-Across: A statement that is [Cliche, e.g.] is a HACKNEYED SAYING.
There are only 74 answers in the grid, but it’s smoother than creamy peanut butter. The stacked 10’s in the northwest and southeast are an especially nice and attention-grabbing touch. And did you notice that the middle theme entries are connected by five-letter crossings in nine different locations? That’s crazy, but Martin makes it look effortless. (Okay, maybe TOR and ESE show some effort.) We’re even treated to a pair of K’s, a pair of V’s, and a pair of Z’s. Among the notably good fill there’s GO SEE, TEETOTALER, MOCKED, and the POKEY.
There’s a bit of naughtiness here too, what with NUDES, an ORGY, and a reference to porn actress TRACI Lords. It enough to make the VICAR blush. Should we include NO MEN in this list too? After all, there’s usually some reference to that in the titles of lesbian porn movies (No Man’s Land 34 and No Men Allowed 16, for example). So I hear, anyway.
Favorite entry = STOP IT (“Uncle!”). Favorite clue = The evocative [Burdens for some walking motorists] for GAS CANS.
Brendan Quigley’s blog puzzle — Matt’s review + Amy’s retro-review
Brendan imagines a scenario where speed-daters discuss last night’s 5-minute candidates with an adjective (wrong, as Amy points out below; two are nouns) appropriate to their profession. So the dog-catcher was FETCHING, for example. Similarly:
- The firefighter was a HOTTIE
- The siren was TEMPTING (is “siren” a job?!)
- The librarian was STACKED (I think this is an upper-body reference)
- The baroness was WELL-ENDOWED (why not the male underwear model, to balance out STACKED?)
- The geometry teacher was SHAPELY
- The pastry chef was LUSCIOUS
- The private eye was a real LOOKER
- The witch was CHARMING
I like this theme idea, though a couple of them feel off; siren, baroness and witch aren’t real jobs, and CHARMING for “witch” doesn’t seem quite right. Still, the concept is smart and the dog-catcher, firefighter, librarian, geometry teacher, pastry chef and private eye ones were all good — and there are so many of them! So thumbs-sideways/up on the theme, if that makes sense.
Lovely grid as ever, wide-open and full of stuff like ENOLA GAY, REDESIGN, SEA GOD, YES YES, PUBLIC TV, MSNBC, LEE JEANS, BAR STOOL and CAKY. I GIVE it four stars, and if you quote this review you’ll need to list me as your CITEE.
Amy Reynaldo will be my citee today, as I quote in full her review of this puzzle from Sept. 11th, 2007. I didn’t read her review until after I’d written mine, BTW, so we’re getting two looks at this BEQ uninfluenced by each other:
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Onion A.V. Club puzzle has a theme that starts out, “Speed Dating went really well last night, but I can’t make up my mind,” and continues with seven adjectives and two nouns that might be used to jokingly describe people in certain occupations. Fun puzzle! Each of the nine theme entries has its own “aha” moment. The dog catcher was FETCHING and the firefighter was a HOTTIE, but wait, the siren was TEMPTING? Sirens are tempting, but how many sirens are going to Speed Dating? [Potato chips, to Brits] are CRISPS, yes, but there are brands sold as potato chips there. (The best damn salt-free potato chip I ever had was from a chip-maker in England who hand-stirred kettle chips and used “potato chips” on the label, and it’s a small company that isn’t exporting its chips to the U.S., alas.) Great grid, with those corners of 6×6 words and the stacked 8-letter entries. Favorite clues: [Some generalists, initially] for PCPS (primary care practictioners); [“We’ve already gone over this”] for YES YES; and [Belt holder] for CHAMP. There’s no reason to use “comedienne” rather than “comedian” in [Comedienne Margaret] CHO, though; it’s not as if there’s another comedian who’s a man named Margaret and the puzzle needs to keep the clues easier. I’ve never heard of CLERC watches; these people must not advertise in Esquire. [Depilatory brand] is NEET; see above. Near-fatal crossing: [Sebadoh’s Barlow], _OU, and [___ Soundsystem], _CD. Figured it had to be LOU, and it is. I don’t like CITEE, but I like all the entries it crosses.
Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
Five words: Ed Sessa does not disappoint! I don’t think I can rewrite that in the style of this puzzle’s theme.
- 20a. [Travels far and wide?] – SAILS THE CCCCCCC = SAILS THE SEVEN Cs = SAILS THE SEVEN SEAS
- 40a. [Makes U-turns?] – DOES ONE EEEEEEEE = DOES ONE EIGHT Es = DOES ONE-EIGHTIES
- 55a. [Era referred to in the United Kingdom as “naughty”] – THE GAY TTTTTTTTT = THE GAY NINE Ts = THE GAY NINETIES
If you weren’t expecting such a crazy theme from a puzzle in the LA Times, shame on you. There’s a fun curve ball like this every now and then. It makes the weird ones (like this puzzle) stand out more.
(A small) bone of contention: the E in ONE in the second theme entry makes parsing it a real beast. DOES ON 9 Es? I think not. I’m glad I knew what was going on.
I had a hard but educational time figuring out SALAAM for [Low bow]. Yes, that’s salaam as in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. But salaam is the Arabic equivalent of Hebrew’s shalom. It functions as a word for peace and a greeting. And what do you do when you greet someone in Arabic? That’s right, you give a low bow, also called a salaam.
So BIRCH BEER is like root beer in that it’s not actually a beer. It’s a [Soda containing a bark extract]. Who names these things? I have an angry letter to write to this person. Also, I thought escargot was its own plural, not ESCARGOTS. French pluralizations confuse me. How about escargeaux? (I kid. You don’t need to send me letters on that one.)
Looking back, I’m seeing some ugliness I hadn’t noticed when solving the puzzle. (I guess that’s the way to do it – make the puzzle easy enough for nasty bits to be glossed over.) RKOS, I’M IT!, ELIA and TEO… who? [Racer] TEO [Fabi] is a retired Italian racecar driver. Now it makes sense. Really, four entries isn’t bad, and I didn’t even notice them while solving.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Vision Quest”
When you go on a “Vision Quest,” you hope to SEE something. In this puzzle, you need to see the word SEE at the beginning of selected incomplete theme answers in order to make them work as clues for other answers in the puzzle. To get there, you need to wander through a lot of cross-referencing in the clues. Do you see what I see? Those cross-references are knowingly, purposefully using the word “see.”
- 1a. [See 35-Across], TRAVEL.
- 35a. [-] THE WORLD. 35a is THE WORLD, so to “see the world” is to TRAVEL.
- 11a. [See 17-Across], PEE.
- 17a. See A MAN ABOUT A HORSE.
- 43a. [See 7-Across], MAKE SURE.
- 7a. See TO IT.
- 70a. [See 69-Across], RAGE.
- 69a. See RED.
- 71a. [“See 59-Across”], “G’NIGHT.”
- 59a. “See YOU IN THE MORNING.”
The first pass through this puzzle, I completely missed the whole “hey, cross-referenced clues start with the word ‘see,’ so let’s play with that convention” point of the puzzle. I took the cross-references at face value and the theme seemed convoluted. I like it much better as a riff on [See 887-Down] clues and a warping of expectations.
Favorite clue: 41a [Scientist who was a resistance leader?], OHM. Nerd humor! Second place: 14a [Ginger’s partner, in takeout], WASABI. I was thinking Fred and Ginger. Also like the trivia approach in the clue for 41d: OREM, [City that’s 85% Mormon].
Least familiar answer: 10d [“Godzilla” studio], TOHO. Not many other choices to fit the T*H* pattern the theme answers give. The goatlike animal called the TAHR is no more familiar to most Americans than TOHO.
Shortest answer with five consonants: 45a [CIA antagonist during the Cold War], KGB SPY.