Randolph Ross’s New York Times crossword, “‘A’ Trip Around the World”
The theme entries are strings of geographic entities that start and end with A, hooked together rather than duplicating the connector A’s. The A strings appear in stacks: long pairs at the top and bottom and a staggered triple stack of 19s in the middle. Now, the specific places in each theme entry aren’t described in the clues, so I found it a little hard to fill in the center section. If you had blanks in the long entries, you weren’t getting much help with the crossings, and not getting the crossings made it harder to get the A-place Acrosses. I don’t remember how many theme squares a typical Sunday puzzle has, but I suspect these 133 squares are a good bit more than usual. I say that because (a) all those theme answer places take up a lot of space, and (b) because the Scowl-o-Meter kept triggering as I worked through the puzzle. When 1-Across is a crosswordese place (BADEN, [European spa site]), the guard dog watching the Scowl-o-Meter starts to snarl (or gnar, if you want to go all crosswordese). I kept running into words I learned from crosswords (TEK! And ORRIS, IPANA, ODER), abbreviations (HEB, BOL, USTA, TSPS, AES initials), awkwardnesses (Are you a GARGLER? So soon after the FRAUS controversy, were you ready for MADAMES instead of MESDAMES? Were you ready for EEW after the ACPT trap of “Is it EEW or EWW?” And how many HAVOCS and DETENTES is it possible to have?)
Looking back at the grid, I do see plenty of good stuff in the grid. I like IT’S A DATE (though I had DEAL first), the CARLTON/CARTON crossing, CHALLAH, “I LOVE L.A.,” and plenty of solid entries.
As for the theme, it’s a little jarring to jumble together continents, countries, cities, islands, states, provinces, a sea, and whatever ARCADIA is. Notes below, with slashes and extra A’s for ease of seeing the places:
- 22a. AFRICA/ASIA/ARGENTINA/ARUBA: Two continents, a country, an island.
- 26a. ATLANTA/ALMA ATA/ANDORRA: City, two-word city name that’s a variant of Almaty, country.
- 55a. AMERICA/ARIZONA/ALBANIA: Uh, what is America? Shorthand for the United States of America or either of the continental Americas? State, country.
- 61a. ALGERIA/ALABAMA/ARCADIA: Country, state, mystery. Wikipedia’s primary Arcadia is an administrative unit of Greece.
- 63a. ALBERTA/ALAMEDA/ASTORIA: Province of Canada, city of 73,812, and … a neighborhood in Queens? Or a small town? My vote is for Astoria, South Dakota, population 139. Either that or the submarine abyss called Astoria Canyon.
- 95a. ALTOONA/ARMENIA/ARAL SEA: Another two-word crosswordese entity. Pennsylvania town, country, shrinking sea.
- 100a. ANTARCTICA/ALASKA/ANTIGUA: Continent, state, island.
Oh, also: What the heck is URBAN POP (15d. [Some city sounds])? I’ve never encountered this term before.
This whole venture felt rather hit-or-miss to me. 2.9 stars. I would have liked perhaps to have fewer places in the theme entries so that they all felt natural.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Say What?” – Jeffrey’s review
Last week’s puzzle was titled Got Milk? This week, Say What? I guess the secret of getting a puzzle published in the Sunday LA Times is a three-letter-four-letter-question-mark title. By the way, the Sunday LA Times crossword is not actually in the Sunday LA Times. Who Knew?
Theme: The beginning of the theme answers can follow “Say” in beloved expressions.
- 23A. [Area for religious zeal] – AMEN CORNER (say amen)
- 25A. [Actress turned princess] – GRACE KELLY (say grace)
- 42A. [Jackie Coogan’s “Addams Family” role] – UNCLE FESTER (say uncle)
- 47A. [A Bible, to many] – THE WORD OF GOD (say the word)
- 68A. [1961 Marvelettes #1 hit] – PLEASE MR. POSTMAN (say please)
- 93A. [O’Neill play] – AH WILDERNESS (say ah)
- 96A. [“I’m full!”] – NO MORE FOR ME (say no more)
- 116A. [Start of an opinion] – I DO BELIEVE (say I do)
- 119A. [Everly Brothers classic] – BYE BYE LOVE (say bye bye)
Say, Say, Say
I must say this is a fine example of this type of puzzle.
- 33A. [Suffix with Zola] – ESQUE. Who can forget that scene in Wordplay where Trip Payne shouts out “Oh Good God” after seeing Amy curtsy?
- 75A. [Volcanic depressions] – CALDERAS
- 104A. [Like volcanoes] – CONIC. Gareth’s secret volcano fetish, revealed!
- 111A. [2001-’08 White House Deputy Chief of Staff whose middle name is Whitehouse] – HAGIN. My middle name is SevenStoryOfficeBuilding.
- 11D. [Interstellar unit] – PARSEC. You know who is an expert on PARSEC? Han Solo!
- 46D. [Musical with the song “Seasons of Love“] – RENT. One of the few songs with 525,600 in the lyrics.
- 67D. [Tee buyer’s options, briefly] – SML. Better add some X’s or it won’t fit me.
- 80D. [Pro shop purchase] – GOLF SHIRT
- 81D. [World Golf Hall of Famer Aoki] – ISAO. Gareth’s secret golf fetish, revealed! (See also AMEN CORNER).
- 91D. [Rare great apes] – BONOBOS. I want to see a video of BONOBOS eating bonbons.
- 97D. [’50s Superman player George] – REEVES
50D. [Call it a night] – GO HOME!
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Quad-stack alert! This 66/28 freestyle crossword from the Prince of Triple Stacks features two quad-stacks (that is, four 15-letter entries stacked one atop the next). I’ve never made a quad-stack puzzle, but not for lack of trying. There’s something to be said just for getting a quad stack to work, but from a critical perspective there are two criteria for a quad-stack to be successful: (1) the liveliness of the 15-letter entries, and (2) the quality of the crossings required to make it all work. Think about it–if the 15-letter entries are DULL AS DISHWATER (15 letters!), then there’s not much fun for the solver. And if one must endure strained crossings to suss out the longer entries, much of the enjoyment from even the liveliest 15-letter entries is lost.
Viewed from these two criteria, I’d score the bottom quad-stack an unqualified success. All four of the entries are interesting. I like HURRICANE SEASON as an entry, though I had no idea it is the title of a [Forest Whitaker movie of 2010]. ESCAPE TO VICTORY is a [John Huston war movie of 1981] that has a familiar title to me, though I’ve never seen it. LEAVE IT TO CHANCE is just a terrific entry, and DESERT ONE’S POST is pretty lively too. The crossings are solid, and some (ACE IT, COLD AS ICE) are pretty darn cool. The worst of the crossings are USEE, [One for whose benefit a legal suit is brought] and ATTS (short for attorneys). The two partials (NO TO and A TAP) may be less elegant, but we all know partials are fine in this solver’s territory. So this quad-stack gets five stars.
The top stack is considerably less successful, but I think that has more to do with my complete unfamiliarity with two of the 15-letter entries. I’ve never heard the expression AS SOBER AS A JUDGE, a simile indicating that something is [Very serious]. Maybe it’s because I’ve known a judge or two to be not-quite-sober sometimes. Judges do serious work, certainly, but some would not exactly be described as “serious.” The other unknown to me was the BESSEMER PROCESS, the [Steelmaking method]. Let’s turn to Wikipedia for some background: “The Bessemer process was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass-production of steel from molten pig iron. … The key principle is removal of impurities from the iron by oxidation with air being blown through the molten iron. The oxidation also raises the temperature of the iron mass and keeps it molten.”
The other two components of the quad-stack, RATIONALIZATION and ITALIAN-AMERICAN, are perfectly fine, but neither is in the company of any component in the bottom stack. The crossings in this stack are considerably more strained, too. STAS, RANEES, and ENNS aren’t pretty, and neither of the partials here really worked for me. “DO AS you please” is an expression I know, but GO-AS-you please as an adjective for “not tied down” is new to me. And I know the expression for “laugh hard” as BUST A GUT, not BUST A RIB. Toss in the increasingly obscure [Gore recount legal reprsentative David] BOIES and you have a stack that, well, it works, but it’s not exactly elegant. The top stack thus gets an arguably generous three stars.
The really interesting stuff is in the middle, where one 15-letter entry, EXAMINATION ROOM, anchors a lot of interesting tidbits like TAHITI, COCA-COLA (the [Tab producer]), RED EAGLE (the [Creek warrior pardoned by Andrew Jackson]), David MAMET, and CLOGS, the [Targets for snakes] (as in the snakes used by plumbers). That section is easily four stars (OSE, TO ONE, and RIME keep it from five-star status, but hey, four stars is pretty darn good around these parts).
So we get a grid that spans from three to five stars as one moves from top to bottom. Good to finish on a strong note, right?
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Sunday crossword, “Quick Quip” — pannonica’s review
Thanks to delayed on-line publication, this puzzle is behind the times, as the subject of the theme-comprising quotation occurred over six weeks ago.
89a. [Author of this puzzle’s quip] STEVEN WRIGHT.
23a, 42a, 46a, 64a, 88a, 89a, 111a: I WATCHED THE INDY 500 AND | I WAS THINKING | THAT | IF THEY HAD LEFT EARLIER | THEY | WOULDN’T HAVE TO GO SO FAST.
This sort of dubiously trenchant observation is a hallmark of Wright’s deadpan comedy, who reached his popular peak in the 1980s but is apparently still going strong, somewhere. This is news to me, but then again I’m not entenched in the media loop. Of course, the essential thing abou the Indianapolis 500 and other RACES is that they are [Tests of speed] (115a). Wryony!
The last section of the grid I completed was the area around the 500, with its numerals. The main trouble was that I had no idea how to spell the slangy word for lieutenant suggested by 15d [Sarge’s superiors]—for most of the solve I had LOOEYS, then adjusted it to LOUIES, and finally—after realizing that New Orleans’ [Preservation Hall locale] was the 5TH, not the the Ninth, WARD (mentioned so often in the wake of Hurricane Katrina)—working out LOOIES.
The rest of the field:
- Longest nonthematic fill: 36d [Gauge illuminators] DASH LIGHTS; I like the colloquialness of the dropped -BOARD. Not associated with 62a [Face with hands] DIAL. 47d [Trek to a shrine] PILGRIMAGE. interesting how the roughly counterbalancing 34d JIHAD [Arabic for “struggle”] readily anagrams to HADJI (Arabic for “one who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca”) with a simple reversal of syllables.
- 69d LA LAW, 106a LA TIMES. 16d IMACS, 30a IPAD.
- 40a [Lone Wolf’s followers] KIOWA. I can’t immediately find a close connection between them and the Iowa.
- Overly specific clues that threw me off: 88d [March 15, in 44 B.C.] IDES well, yes, but every March has an ides and this one is just the famous one. 80d [Bird bunch] BEVY; actually, this one is either too specific or not specific enough because BEVY connotes a large number of animals (not specifically birds), but is also the collective noun for quail.
- 22a [Victim of misogyny] WOMAN. An overly specific clue that didn’t throw me but found irksome, abstracted from the puzzle. All of society suffers when misogyny occurs.
- 63a [Jam band Umphrey’s __ ] MCGEE. Unknown to me, but I suppose it’s a welcome change from the old-time crosswordy Fibber MCGEE. I’d still prefer Kris Kristofferson’s song.
In general, the puzzle had what felt like a typical amount of proper nouns, crosswordese, partials, abbreviations, and the like. So, average ballast, unexceptional quote for a theme, plus straightforward cluing make for an average large format crossword.
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 119” – Neville’s review
Neville here, in for Doug again because he’s written today’s great Post Puzzler – an A+ from me. Nothing impossible in here, but boy did I have a hard time with this one. It was a fun hard time, though. Let’s start with some long ones:
- 28a. [Person who needs a lift to work] – SKI INSTRUCTOR. This was an early get for me, but the cleverness isn’t lost on me.
- 33a. [Wood feature] – WEST SIDE STORY. That’s Natalie Wood for you young ‘uns. I’m surprised Doug or Peter didn’t go with [Woodwork?], but again, I think that’s the road they were going down. Two for two on good clues for 13-letter entries.
- 14d. [Company headquartered in Botany Bay] – QANTAS AIRWAYS. Now right away, if you know where Botany Bay is, you think of Qantas straight away. But it’s that danged Q at the end of MAGGIE Q that screws with you if you’ve never heard of her. I just don’t expect that sort of nonsense. Still, it worked itself out eventually.
- 15d. [“On the Waterfront” Oscar winner] – EVA MARIE SAINT. I got her Wheel of Fortune style, despite having a cruddy knowledge of movies.
How about the corners, then? Below Ms. Q is ORGANZA, a [Wedding dress fabric] that I’ve not heard of, so I got it going down. That was really the only sticky spot for me in this puzzle that I just could not get. Plenty of cute clues in this themeless puzzle.
- 22a. [Smart adversary] references the evil organization KAOS on “Get Smart.” I know it comes up in crosswords a lot, but I still love it.
- 40a. [Material for Voldemort’s wand] – it’s not me, it’s YEW. Way to liven up a blah tree, DP.
- 42a. [Get behind something, say] – HIDE. BACK just wouldn’t work.
- 54a. [It’s taken for trips in the desert] – PEYOTE. This was exactly what I suspected it would be… I was just shocked that it was right!
- 55a. [Sound choice] – STEREO. Is this still really a choice? Do you still have mono speakers in your home?
- 3d. [Yellow] – EGG YOLK. Did you think we were going for something like COWARDLY? The moment that didn’t fit I knew we’d be in for a tricky time.
- 7d. [Hypnos’s realm] – SLEEP. Yup – there’s our Greek mythology for the puzzle. Somnus is the Roman equivalent – you never know when you’ll need to know that!
- 20d. [Initiate a squeeze] – BUNT. There’s your classic indirect baseball clue from DP. There’s always one in there somewhere.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Fasten-ation”
It’s been a while since a pun theme really sat right with me, but this one felt like a solid puzzle. Eleven theme entries (or nine, if you count the three-part, 35-letter one as a single entry), unforced fill, puns that didn’t stretch too far. It won’t end up on my hypothetical 2012 Top Ten list, but there’s little to criticize.
First up, the fastener theme:
- 22a. [The sound of hard-hat frogs at work?], RIVET, RIVET. Am picturing cartoon hard-hat frogs doing iron work 40 stories above the street. It’s always a good thing when a crossword answer gives you a funny visual. (Ribbit, ribbit.)
- 28a. [One way to describe a fastener expo?], SPIKETACULAR. (Spectacular.)
- 31a. [Like fraudulent fastener firms?], UNSCREWPULOUS. (Unscrupulous.)
- 48a. [What the carpenter was when he realized he’d brought only one kind of fastener?], IN A BRAD MOOD. Didn’t realize carpenters used brads. Did you know the word’s been with us since late Middle English? (In a bad mood.)
- 51a. [Playwright with many solid hits?], NAIL SIMON. (Neil Simon, who has indeed nailed the secret to theatrical success.)
- 63a. [All it takes for some small home-building jobs?], THREE LITTLE PEGS. I like a sturdy peg that doesn’t dislodge in my bookshelf and send books flying. This year, I finally found a suitable peg. I bought three little pegs at the hardware store, but two turned out not to fit the bill. Or the hole and shelf, rather. That’s what they didn’t fit. (“Three Little Pigs.”)
- 81a. [The fastener capital of America?], BOLTIMORE. Locals pronounce it “bowl-mer.” (Baltimore.)
- 83a. [Fastener search that makes you a bit jumpy?], STAPLE CHASE. (Steeplechase, a horsey jumping event.)
- 96a, 100a, 109a. [Q: “How do you know so much about fasteners?” A: “Simple. I went to the ___ …” (continues at 100 and 109 Across)], MASSACHUSETTS PINSTITUTE OF TACKNOLOGY. (MIT.)
There’s a little crosswordese (e.g., ESTE, ASTA) but I didn’t pick up on any deadly crossings or tortured fill. And there were some fun clues:
- 40d. [They really light up a room], LAMPS. No, really! Not figuratively!
- 16d. [What stinks in here?], ODOR.