Announcements, Mu(e)ller edition:
Pete Muller’s fourth Muller Monthly Music Meta has been posted, and will be on the Crosswords by PuzzleSocial app Saturday night. Because I work for PuzzleSocial, I saw the puzzle ahead of time. You know what? I needed hints from Pete in order to figure out the meta. Significantly tougher than the last three!
Also, academic Shane Mueller is conducting a study of “to understand how crossword players of various levels of expertise use their memory and verbal skills to make fast decisions. The study typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes, which can be done in several different chunks of time. It involves a survey, a puzzle to solve, and a word-stem completion game. Also, once you are done with the study, you can continue to use the word-stem fill-in to help you improve your puzzle play. The study will be available through early September.” If you’d like to learn more, visit Mueller’s website.
Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 54”
Quick wrap-up of last week’s Fireball contest puzzle: The theme entries were ECLIPSE AWARDS (never heard of ’em), ORBIT HIGH SCHOOL (no recollection of that), and BIG RED MACHINE (never heard that phrase before). Eclipse, Orbit, and Big Red are all chewing gums (ergo, “Chew on This” was the puzzle’s title). I summoned up a Wikipedia listing of chewing gum brands and started checking familiar names against the grid to see if those letters jumped out at me. When I hit Extra and saw EXPAT in the grid, I thought of “extra —p—” phrases and “extra point” came to mind. Swap out Extra’s R from INTRO and add in the P from EXPAT and you get yourself an EXTRA POINT. Peter also accepted EXTRA STEP, using EXPAT and RTES. It’s particularly elegant to have the extra theme answer of the meta actually start with the word “extra,” no?
This week’s puzzle is a 70-worder with an unusual grid layout. Did you get a load of that northwest corner, with the 8s crossing 5s? Every single bit of that is terrific fill. The southeast is less impressive, thanks to ALERO EDER EDSEL, but also solid.
Top fill: MENOPAUSE (the [Change]!), LISA SIMPSON (19a. [“Everyone knows that the only real test of skill is the New York Times puzzle edited by Will Shortz” speaker]—Lisa is a little young for the Fireball crossword, but she’ll come to it eventually), the bizarre-looking-in-the-grid WACO TX, slangy HORSE HOCKEY, Sendak’s Pierre’s “I DON’T CARE” (if you missed Maurice Sendak’s recent two-part interview with Steven Colbert, you’ve got to Google that because it’s awesome, and you might also look for Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” interview with Sendak), PANCETTA, HEAD SHOT right near SEX SCENES, and the why-are-they-still-called-that REDSKINS.
Clues of note:
- 51a. [Feebie, e.g.: Abbr.], AGT. Uh, I’m guessing this means FBI agents.
- 58a. [Worms can be seen on it], RHINE. Best weight loss plan ever is, of course, the Diet of Worms.
- 7d. [Cut the mustard?], REAP. You can’t reap cheese, but you can certainly cut it.
- 11d. [___ the Jeep (“Popeye” character)], EUGENE. Who?? Was he a motor vehicle?
- 12d. [Its final round is on Father’s Day], US OPEN. In golf. Massive demerits to any dad who chooses to watch the final round on TV without his kids.
- 32d. [Climactic parts of some movies?], SEX SCENES. Did the puzzle hours ago and just noticed the other meaning of “climactic.” Similarly, I knew that 50d: [Like Hel] meant NORSE, but missed the “like hell” lurking within.
- 42d. [It has its own script], ARABIC. Nice clue.
Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword
The fill is pretty good, but when it came to the theme, I had to print out the puzzle and pick up a highlighter to figure out how this grid represents a TIC-TAC-TOE game. Okay. Here’s how I see it: You can divide the grid into nine 5×5 chunks, and each of thise 5×5 sectors contains either an X or an O, except for when it contains multiple O’s. Which is off-putting, if you ask me. The right middle sector has five O’s. And the left middle and bottom chunks run together with those three evenly spaced O’s. VEXED!
X wins, by the way, with the NW-to-SE diagonal.
Highlights in the fill include “IT’S USELESS,” DANA CARVEY, RED SNAPPER, Warholian TOMATO SOUP abutting the necessary CAN OPENERS, and “YES, INDEEDY.” I’m a fan of full names in crosswords, though BART CONNER has faded into gymnastics history (Wikipedia tells me he won his gold with a perfect 10 on the parallel bars) and NIA PEEPLES is far less famous than that big-screen Fame actress, Irene Cara (who I was going to stretch to 10 letters if it weren’t for DANA CARVEY’s N).
In the debit column, we have EMER, A SON (but I like the EVER I partial because that song is awesome), -A-TAT, OUSE, SSSS/SESS/ESSE/SSNS, and CXII. The bottom row is mighty sibilant, with eight S’s.
I now have tic-tac-toe crossword theme fatigue. We’ve had two in recent weeks and that’s plenty.
Take a sports (or daredevil) star that appears in crosswords a lot. Take a homonym of his name and find a common phrase that includes that homonym. Such phrases comprise the theme of this puzzle, but here’s the catch – spell the key word in that phrase, not as you normally would, but using the sports star’s name. Crazy, huh? Welcome to crossworld.
Here’s what we’ve got:
- [Tennis/crossword star with a dye job?] – ASHE BLONDE (See, ASHE, as in the tennis player Arthur Ashe, is a common crossword entry. “Ash blonde” is a common phrase, or “thing”, if you will. And notice that “Ashe” and “Ash” are pronounced the same.)
- [Zombified crossword/hockey star?] – DEAD ORR ALIVE – I’ll spare you the explication of this and further theme answers. I think you get it.
- [What the stalker of a certain crossword/pitching star is driven by?] – OREL FIXATION
- [Those who side with a famous name in crosswords/stunts?] – AXIS OF EVEL
I enjoyed this theme quite a bit. ASHE BLONDE is kind of blah and not terribly creative but the other three were quite inspired and left me amused.
A sampling of some great clues from this puzzle:
- [A white one is small] – LIE
- [Application for windows?] – TINT
- [On E?] – OUT OF GAS
- [Switch hit?] – CANING – Clue/answer of the puzzle.
- [Craft collection?] – FLEET
A taste of some fresh entries from this puzzle: KIOSKS, SO TRUE, JINXED, DOODADS, HAVE A SAY
My only complaints are that TORN INTO is a somewhat awkward inflection and that DONG is clued as [Vietnamese money] instead of [When doubled, Chinese bronze-medal winning trampolinist from the 2012 London Olympics]. Don’t tell me the name Dong Dong doesn’t make you giggle.
Ben has returned to form after last week’s less than stellar offering. If you agree or disagree, rate the puzzle. I was sad last week to have been the only one weighing in. I’m giving this one 4.25 stars.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “On the D-List” – Sam Donaldson’s review
When comedian Kathy Griffin speaks of being on the D-List, this is not what she has in mind. The puzzle features six two-word terms with the initials D. D. I take it “Fun with Double-Ds” wasn’t a viable title. The selected theme entries are all interesting, even if some of my favorites (DUNKIN’ DONUTS, DROP DEAD, DENTAL DAM, DUMB-DOWN) were left on the cutting room floor:
- 17-Across: The answer to [Lee Marvin movie of 1967, with “The”] is DIRTY DOZEN. It came seven years after The Magnificent Seven, so you can see Hollywood’s attempt to go bigger and bolder. Speaking of which, anyone here see the 1974 film, The Evil Eighteen?
- 41-Across: To [Do some serious soul-searching] is to DIG DEEP. I really like this theme entry.
- 64-Across: DONALD DUCK is the [Cartoon character who wears no pants]. Many toons prefer to roam au naturel (one week in Paris and I’m throwing around French expressions–c’est la vie), including another Double-D: Daffy Duck.
- 11-Down: The [Fantastic Four’s foe] is Victor Von Doom, better known as DOCTOR DOOM. Yep, this fanboy ate up that theme entry.
- 25-Down: The [Estimated time of arrival] is sometimes known as the DUE DATE.
- 30-Down: A telephone call that is [Not operator-assisted] is a DIRECT DIAL call. Between Donald Duck, Doctor Doom and direct dial calls, I’m getting nostalgic for my childhood.
I’m glad we didn’t get DAILY DOUBLE–that entry has been creeping up a lot lately in the CS puzzle, so it’s nice to see it sit on the bench for a while.
There are 53 theme squares, and you can’t go far in the grid without hitting one. That would normally impose serious constraints on the fill, but this grid flows quite smoothly. We could obsess on nits like ETTE, ROUE, and ECCE, but why not focus on the neat stuff like ST. JOE, JOWLS, I WIN, GUNK, and Gloria ESTEFAN. I’m especially impressed with the midsection–have triple 7s running down the middle and intersecting theme entries is tres elegant.
I feel pretty confident about today’s guesses in the Name Than Constructor Month feature. The pangrammatic fill? The intersecting theme entries? This screams Patrick Jordan to me. But you never know–maybe one of the CS constructors is paying tribute to Patrick or trying to channel his style in this puzzle. So I’ll take my full three guesses just in case. After Patrick, though, my guesses are pretty much a crap shoot. Okay, here goes:
1. Patrick Jordan. 2. Alan Arbesfeld. 3. Tony Orbach.
Martin Ashwood-Smith?!? Wow–with 78 answers and 38 black squares in the grid, Martin would have been my next-to-last choice! (It clearly wasn’t a Bob Klahn puzzle if I solved it in almost four minutes.) I associate Martin with 15-letter entries and wide-open grids. Maybe that well-constructed midsection should have tipped me off. Well played, Martin. Well played indeed. Name That Constructor Stats After 9 Puzzles: 2 correct first choices (3 points each), 2 correct second choices (2 points each), no correct third choices (1 point each); 10 points total so far; score to beat = 15.5 points.
Brendan Quigley’s blog puzzle, “Accented Notes”—Matt Gaffney’s review
Must every crossword sport a mind-crushing theme? Certainly not. With all eyes on London, Brendan gives us a straightforward idea focused not on English athletics but rather on English music. You probably know OASIS and BLUR, though perhaps not SUEDE or PULP. But here they are:
17-a. [Reason for optimism, perhaps] = OASIS OF HOPE. Googles marginally, but it’s a nice phrase.
27-a. [Make it difficult to see where one thing begins] = BLUR THE EDGES. “Blur the lines” Googles six or seven times better, but this still works.
44-a. [Purse material] = SUEDE LEATHER. Normally I’d just hear “suede,” but this Googles very well.
59-a. [Film with the classic line “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”] = PULP FICTION. 20 million Google hits! How come I’ve never heard of this movie??
OK, not the cleverest BEQ theme of all time, but they can’t all be home runs. We’ll call this a bunt single.
BEQ-quality fill, though: MIKE JUDGE, GIRLY GIRL, THE IDEA, TYPE A, MARIAH, D-DAY and ANNEX/NYNEX crossing at the X.
Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review
Here’s a puzzle for the numismatists out there.
- 20a. [*7 ___] – BUFFALO NICKELS
- 33a. [*5 ___] – WHEAT PENNIES
- 42a. [*6 ___] – MERCURY DIMES
- 57a. [What the starred clues and their no-longer-minted answers come to] – CHANGE FOR A BUCK
This is a prime example of a simple theme made harder by giving vague clues at the get-go that are easier once you figure out the trick. If I could change one thing, it would just be to switch the pennies and dimes so that the quantities drop as you go down the grid. (Sheesh, how picky can I get?)
I mean, this is a really simple theme. Not a bad theme – just simple. It seems that adding that little bit of consistency could make it a tad more elegant. (Okay, I’ll stop now.)
Great corners. I had IRON FIST for IRON HAND; [Get a move on?] is quite cute for RELOCATE. I’ve seen the fountains at the BELLAGIO, so that was a nice freebie. [Cooked longer, perhaps] made absolutely no sense to me for the longest time. I think I got CRISPIER using across entries only. I was looking for a verb!
RAW BAR? FOO-FOO? Alice B. TOKLAS? ZELDA? All great. Despite my initial misgiving with a small aspect of the theme, this was really a fun puzzle, and that’s all I can ask for.