Elayne Cantor and Vic Fleming’s New York Times crossword, “Car Talk”
This is not a theme about public radio stars Ray and Tom Magliozzi. Nope, it’s a theme in which standard car terminology gets redefined. For example, REAR BUMPER is clued as a [Commuter on a crowded bus, e.g.?], and AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION is [What “Send” triggers?]. The theme’s mostly light and modestly amusing, although I’m feeling rather appalled by the clue for HOOD ORNAMENTS. I can’t help suspecting that [Bling-bling?] is meant to make us think of jewelry worn by African-American guys, and that the word HOOD therefore refers to a person. There is, of course, no semantic equivalency here. Clue it as a convicted mafioso’s bling, and you’re onto something. Generic bling ≠ a “hood’s” jewelry. I also can’t help thinking that this was not the constructors’ original clue.
Never heard of ADRIANO, a [One-named Brazilian soccer star]. Joon and the other global futebol fans will tell us how crossword-worthy this fellow is.
Top entries: NIGHTIES, BACK PAY, POT PIE, THE GAP, ADWARE, and GIZMOS.
Worst: Oof. The PAP and ANEMO crossers for unfamiliar ADRIANO (plus MUDD crossing ANEMO), the ONAGER x-ref not really sprucing up that ASIA clue, TSETSES, ENOTES, and assorted combos of proper names, as with the ADRIANO zone. ELVIRA crosses TEVYE. DEMAREST sits atop EDEL. PELEG doesn’t cross other names, luckily. Crosswordese OLLAS crosses SELENA. And crosswordese OBOL ([One-sixth of a drachma]! Don’t think that this clue became ancient history when Greece switched to the euro, because the modern drachma was divided into 100 lepta—this clue has always been ancient history because the obol was a denomination of ancient Greece) is near ENURED. The category of “I’ll Take ‘O Crosswordese’ for $800, please” is rounded out by OSIERS.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
This week’s Sunday Challenge crossword, a 68/30 freestyle from Martin Ashwood-Smith, features seven–count ’em, seven–15-letter Across entries, including a triple stack along the middle that feeds into crossing Downs of no less than five squares.
No question that the best stacking is down at the bottom, with IT’S GONNA COST YOU atop GREASE THE WHEELS. I also liked the top pairing of FOLLOW ONE’S NOSE and FLOATING CAPITAL, but it’s a distant second to the bottom pair. None of the 15s in the equator really pings the Fresh-O-Meter (the new cousin to Amy’s Scowl-O-Meter, patent pending). I might have liked AIR FORCE RESERVE more if the clue had been more specific. [Military part-timers] tells me I need to be hunting for something more generic than the reservists for a particular branch of the armed forces. Even [Some military part-timers] would have been more accurate, I think.
To me, the highlight of the middle stack is the intersecting stack of 7s running down the stack’s center. CARCASS, AL DENTE, and WEIRDER look so good together they practically tell a story. The epicurean buzzard preferred his carcass al dente, which made him all the weirder to the other vultures.
15-stacks often require one to accept some compromises in the fill. While this puzzle does have my all-time least favorite crossword entry (the dreaded SER), some of the stranger stuff is more pleasantly offbeat than off-putting. I liked FFF, clued as [At full volume, notationally], even though I had forgotten that until I had two Fs in place. LOL and FWIW r kewl 2.
O-TAY ([Buckwheat’s assent]) feels a tad outdated and insensitive at this point, but that could be the codger in me coming out to say hello. But I’m actually okay with some of the other Crosswordese here like ESSEN, AHS, MOWN, SNEE, and YAW.
Anyone else now pronouncing VALETS differently thanks to Downton Abbey? The show helped me get the answer to [Gentlemen’s gentlemen] right away, so there’s already a payoff to watching it.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Shock Treatment”
Some of Merl’s recent “each theme answer includes this 3-letter string” themes have left me cold but I enjoyed this week’s ZAPping. (.puz file no longer available; visit Merl’s site if your local Sunday paper doesn’t carry the puzzle, or use the Washington Post interface).
- 24a. [Popular picture fonts that come standard on Apple computers (named after a German type designer)], ZAPF DINGBATS. (1) Have loved that font name since I first encountered it on a Mac maybe 20 years ago. (2) Named after a German type designer! Trivia I didn’t know. Do you know the Dingbats characters? Lots of stars, arrows, scissors and pencils, snowflakes, and those pretty little curvy shapes that look nice separating sections of text.
- 39a. [Underground mag of the 1960s], ZAP COMIX. R. Crumb action.
- 46a. [1952 Marlon Brando film] VIVA ZAPATA!
- 72a. [Indian language of Mexico], ZAPOTECAN. I like this one because I’m so fond of the pairing of Zapotec and Czech running legend Emil Zatopek. Before I die, I’d like to see a themeless puzzle in which those two Z names appear opposite each other.
- 95a. [“Freak Out!” frontman, 1966], FRANK ZAPPA. One wonders if he’d have been as kooky if he’d been named, say, Frank Russo.
- 101a. [Takeout fave], PIZZA PIE.
- 118a. [1941 film comedy], HELLZAPOPPIN’. It sounds entertaining. Have you ever seen it?
- 3d. [Man with a camera, 1963], ABRAHAM ZAPRUDER.
- 49d. [It put out the first crossword book in 1924 (and soon changed its name to Simon & Schuster)], PLAZA PUBLISHING. Crossword publishing you’d think I would have known, but I didn’t.
Least familiar fill: 100a. [Composer Romberg], SIG. Most awesome partial: 130a. [“The sea ___ that day, my friends” (line from “Seinfeld”)], WAS ANGRY. (George, recounting an incident involving a whale’s blowhole, a golf ball, and his claim to be a marine biologist, made to impress a woman.) Oddballest word form: 43d. [Of some poets], BARDIC.
Favorite fill: O MAGAZINE, SLEEPOVER, VOODOO, KLUTZY, ROAD TEST.
Henry Hook’s Sunday crossword, “Love Letters” — pannonica’s review
108-across explains what’s going on with those minimalist, gnomic theme clues. [How to complete each theme clue?] WITH A HUG AND A KISS. That is, each of those clues (23a, 31a, 54a, 62a, 76a, 94a) is comprised of a single letter followed by two blanks, and those blanks are completed with a hug (O) and a kiss (X). Hence, [LOX] is a TOPPING FOR A BAGEL, a [POX] is A CURSE OR A PLAGUE, Courtney [COX] is the STAR OF “COUGAR TOWN”, [FOX] is, among other things, the SIMPSONS NETWORK, to [BOX] is to ENGAGE IN PUGILISM, and the White [SOX] are the FENWAY BALL CLUB (recall that this is a Boston-based crossword).
See that asterisk next to my time? It’s linked to that little black triangle at the intersection of 41a and 43d. Because I’m a realist, my unwavering response to [Best effort, percentagewise?] was IOO, the crossword-acceptable transcharacterization of 100. I believed the question mark in the clue to be occasioned by this transfer, but it actually—or additionally—linguimalically refers to the impossibility of giving more than a one-hundred percent effort. At the time, I realized that LOSON didn’t seem like much of an answer to [1993 song, “__ Myself”], but, for instance, 15d [Gospel singer Crouch] ANDRAE looked odd to me too. So, 110% and “Losin’ Myself” by the forgettable Debbie Gibson. See also 90a [1980s memory game fad] SIMON. Ah, memories.
For whatever it may be worth, other chronologically dated clues are: 15a [1946 song, “__ in Calico] A GAL, 67a [1950s Braves ace Warren] SPAHN, 111a [Major hurricane of 1966] INEZ, 7d [1990s pact] NAFTA, 45d [1970s Chevy] VEGA.
- 70a [Migrant worker] is not the so-often-seen OKIE, but the related ARKIE. Somewhat similarly, how refreshing it was to see JAIME Escalante in the puzzle instead of the actor who played him in Stand and Deliver, Edward James OLMOS?
- Some names I didn’t know: 26a DORO [Sister of Dubya], short for Dorothy; the aforementioned ANDRAE Crouch; 71a RHOECUS [Ancient sculptor of Samos].
- Not UNAPTLY (87d), how do we feel about RHOECUS and 84a [Pi follower] RHO? JAIME and 99a [Alai lead-in] JAI?
- And, speaking of awkward-looking PILEUPS (88d) such as UNAPTLY, I didn’t care for 3d [Acct.] BKPR (bookkeeper) or 92d ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone).
- Fun clues and fill: 98d [Major replacement?] BLAIR; John Major, Tony BLAIR. 112a [Country album?] ATLAS. 12d [Banner setting] PAGE ONE. GINKGO, WRUNG, MANAGUA, PERJURY.
- Liked [Maestro Solti] and [Pianist Claudio]—GEORG and ARRAU side-by-side in the northeast. Then there was [Pucicni’s titular soprano] TURANDOT nearby (see also: 81d [Diva’s deliveries] ARIAS).
- Uncommon Latin: CORNU, the prefix CIRRO-. (32d, 72d)
Not a thrilling puzzle, but a good one.
Mike Nothnagel’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 130” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. Congrats to Mike Nothnagel, who makes his Post Puzzler debut today!
If you’re a Mike Nothnagel fan (and why wouldn’t you be?), be sure to check out his weekly podcast Any Questions? on your favorite listening device or right there on the website. Every Friday, Mike treats the host, Ian Pickus, and his listeners to five trivia questions and a bonus wordplay challenge. It’s a heckuva lot of fun. This week’s category is “Stupid Questions” in honor of Ask a Stupid Question Day. How can you resist? Nothing stupid about Mike’s puzzle, so let’s get to it.
- 15a. [Victor over Ivan Lendl at Wimbledon in 1987] – PAT CASH. I don’t know much about tennis, but my crossword skillz saved the day. I noticed that Ivan Lendl’s full name was in the clue. Aha! The answer must also be a full name, and a short full name, because it’s only seven letters long. Bingo. Has to be PAT CASH, who’s shown up in enough crosswords to have found a permanent place in my memory banks. I dropped this one in confidently with no crossers.
- 18a. [Bedrock denizen] – PEBBLES. Pretty easy clue. Her music career really took off after she dumped that loser Bamm-Bamm. ♫ Do you want to ride in my Mercedes, boy? ♪
- 30a. [Twain for children?] – CHOO-CHOO. Genius!
- 45a. [Dakota relative] – ELLE. Another great clue. Of course, my first instinct was Cree or Otoe…something like that. Took me forever to finally see the connection: Dakota Fanning and her little sister Elle! A crossword clue in which “relative” means a literal relative. Well played, Mr. Nothnagel.
- 46a. [Material used in the faces of the clock above the information stand in Grand Central Terminal] – OPAL. Wow, that’s a mouthful. Editor Peter Gordon likes to use clues that haven’t been published before, and I’d wager this is an OPAL debut. Here’s a neat page on New York City clocks, including the opal-faced beauty in Grand Central Station.
- 7d. [1869 novel about Prince Myshkin] – THE IDIOT. Nice entry. And it ties in to this week’s podcast. Way to plan ahead.
- 9d. [Pearl Jam bassist Jeff] – AMENT. Do you ever remember something you didn’t know you knew? I wasn’t a big Pearl Jam fan back in the day. Didn’t own any of their CDs or really pay much attention to them. But AMENT popped into my head as soon as I read that clue. That scares me a little bit. Also gives me an idea for a wacky grunge musicians theme. First theme clue is [“We have to do another MRI, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff”?]
- 33a. [Slowpoke’s shout] – WAIT FOR ME /31d. [“You ___ one] – OWE ME. I’m giving Mike one demerit for crossing these two ME entries.
More cool stuff: MO’ MONEY, MONDO, BONZO, CUT-OFF MAN.
Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Group Practice”
Slightly mind-twisty theme that’s a NEAT IDEA (33d): gather phrases that include words that, in other contexts, mean some sort of group, and clue them as if the group meaning actually predominates in the phrase.
- 25a. [Group providing pro bono services?], FREE AGENCY. Usually the phrase relates to the contract status of pro athletes.
- 27a. Group overseeing porch furniture?], ROCKER PANEL. I’ve seen the phrase before, but have no idea what it means. Part of a car, maybe?
- 45a. [Group dealing with hard stuff?], LIQUOR CABINET. Good one!
- 82a. [Group supervising subs?], SANDWICH BOARD. Also good! I hereby volunteer to serve on both the liquor cabinet and the sandwich board.
- 97a. [Group testing antipasto tidbits?], OLIVE BRANCH.
- 103a. [Group specializing in spinal complaints?], BACK OFFICE.
- 35d. [Group assisting St. Peter?], HEAVENLY BODY.
- 39d. [Group handling hand-held phone sales?], CELL DIVISION. Biology turned telecom. I like this one, too.
Overall, the fill was rather on the “meh” side. 83d. [Uno minus uno], CERO? 4d. [Iowa city named for a Sauk chief], KEOKUK? INI RIATA OREAD MARNE RETD IROC IPANA PENH?