Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword, “Star-Crossed Lovers”
The theme’s worked out in an unusual fashion and I like it. Five famous cinematic couples are clued by the title of their movie, and the first names of the actors who portrayed them are also in the grid (without regard for symmetry). Given that the volume of thematic material is not so high, I’m surprised that the fill’s got as much “meh”terial in it. Perhaps the constructor focused on making an open grid chock full of 7s and thus tolerated more of the “meh”? But then, there is also a lot of sparkle—SMARTASS, that G-SPOT crossing the avian TITS (!), CRIB SHEET (with the mystifying clue [Pony]), MOB BOSS, NETBOOK, NABOKOV, DOC OCK, OS X, “GET THIS!,” and HOOKAH. But we also see D-TEN atop JENI, ELOI atop YECH, SAMARRA IRRS BERRIED, SEATERS crossing CREEL ERTES STOAT. The SAMARRA BERRIED zone hit me early, priming me to notice the later clunkers rather than setting my expectations for cruciverbal verve.
The five couples are CECILIA AND ROBBIE (played by KEIRA Knightley and JAMES McAvoy), ILSA AND RICK (HUMPHREY Bogart and INGRID Bergman), SCARLETT AND RHETT (VIVIEN Leigh, CLARK Gable), LARA AND YURI (JULIE Christie and OMAR Sharif), and ROSE AND JACK (KATE Winslet and LEONARDO DiCaprio). If you’re like me, you needed the crossings for CECILIA AND ROBBIE. How does 121 theme squares compare to the typical Sunday puzzle? I have yet to memorize word/block/theme count averages/limits for 21×21 puzzles.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Sunday crossword, “X Marks the Spot” — pannonica’s review
Χ. It’s such an elemental symbol, perhaps even atavistic. In part because of these qualities, Χ has found itself used in many contexts to represent a variety of ideas, words, and more. Herewith a sampling of its applications, in crossword form.
- 27a. [Jumps in magnitude] POWERS OF Χ.
8d. [List of faves or hits] TOP Χ.
Ten. From the Roman numeral.
- 29a. [Working in opposition] AT Χ PURPOSES.
11d. [Group devoted to healing] RED Χ.
Cross. Simplified literal representation. Hey, it’s a χword puzzle, by the way.
- 40a. [One just happening along] PASSERΧ.
43d. [Side road] ΧWAY.
By. The SΧSW Festival doesn’t seem to have played itself out yet. There are also these now.
- 58a. [Big-city newspaper] NEW YORK Χ.
60d. [Crowded New Year’s Eve spot] Χ SQUARE.
Times. From mathematics, for multiplication, although not in the sense for the two entries here. The New York Times is the eponym of said Square (which is not at all square), since the paper’s headquarters have historically been located there.
- 70a. [Seekers of “the spot”] Χ HUNTERS.
39d. [Chest on the sea floor] SUNKEN Χ.
Treasure. As per the puzzle’s title, seen on archetypal pirates’ maps. You’d have thought they might use an Arrrh.
- 88a. [Find gold, say] Χ IT RICH.
74d. [Bombing raid] AIR Χ.
Strike. Typically seen in typography and writing, where something has been XED out (a common bit of crosswordese). Also—and I say this with limited sports knowledge—used to represent those nominal events in both baseball and bowling.
- 97a. [Smacks of chocolate?] HERSHEY’S ΧES.
102a. [Dismiss with a mock smooch] Χ OFF.
Kiss. Principally seen in correspondence, complemented by Os for hugs.
- 103a. [Wrigley nine] ΧCAGO CUBS.
103d. [Sculptor’s tool] ΧSEL.
Chi. The 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet.
This is an astonishing feat of construction. Not only are there eight distinct interpretations of the symbol, but (a) they are consistent for pairs of χing entries, so there is no virtuousic-pollination, (b) there are no extraneous χs in the grid, and (c) the locations of the χes are all symmetrical, which means that the vertical theme entries are symmetrically located, as well as the expected aχes. It’s mind-boggling and humbling. I’m also (d) relieved that there was no attempt to create an Χ from black squares; that would certainly have been a failed and detrimental attempt to shoot the MOON (48d).
With such extensive and virtuosic theme content, it’s no surprise that there is little flashy stuff among the ballast material. The lengthiest fill among that lot is a pair of of eight-letter answers: SOLEMNLY and DETECTED, rounded out by a sextet of seven-letter jobbies: CICADAS, COMPASS, RIGHTLY, STOSSEL [Fox Business show], BLANKET, NEATNIK; not too shabby.
- 3d [Diner side] SLAW, 104d [3-Down preceder] COLE, 34a [Picnic spread] BLANKET. Gotcha!
- PAEAN, NAIAD. (56d, 80a) Honorable mention: ROUEN (72d)
- Favorite clues: 49a [Shorten some blades] MOW. 85a [Tread companion] RISER.
- Least favorite clue: [Bear up?] URSA. I just hate, hate, hate this bit of lame misdirection, which I’ve seen subtle variations of in a number of puzzles. It’s kind of irrational, I think.
- 62a [Sharp craving] JONES.
- 64a. [Ball of yarn] SKEIN. Not exactly a ball, in my experience. See also KEENE, NH [Pumpkin fest town] and [With hot enthusiasm] KEEN. (87a, 81d). Yes, I know /ā/ vs. /ē/, but still… I’m on a roll?
- LADEN / LADLE / ADDLE / EDDY, all clumped together. Something’s going on there.
- Blah-iest partials: A PIE, A LIST. (69d, 109a)
- Least familiar answers: 17d [Ferrara family] ESTE. 21a [“Escales” composer]Jacques IBERT. John STOSSEL (whom I see boasts a very pornstar moustache). 89d RUSSET not as a potato but as an [Apple often rough-skinned]—apparently W Shakespeare called them leathercoats.
Very, very impressive puzzle, and not a bad solve either!
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s Sunday Challenge is a creamy smooth 70/25 freestyle offering from Doug Peterson. You’ll note that it has only three iffy entries (AMT, A COLD, and DES) and four times as many terrific ones. That’s the kind of ratio you see from the best in the business, so it’s no surprise who constructed it.
The dozen or so entries I loved, in no special order:
- I GOTCHA, a catchy way to get the solver’s attention right at 1-Across.
- NOT A HAPPY CAMPER, the best of the four 15-letter entries, though all of them are very solid. (HOT WATER BOTTLE is pretty awesome too).
- Two for one here, because while they’re very solid, they really shine sitting next to each other: INHALE and GOO-GOO. INHALE is made sparkly through its clue, [Gobble down, slangily].
- Captain America’s nemesis, the Red SKULL. What a hot head.
- Another two-fer that look even better alongside each other: SPLATTER and TEETERED.
- CRUD, a G-rated version of [“Gosh darn it!”] (“darn” makes it PG, you see).
- The FAKE ID, the [Subject of many a bar examination]. That was probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. Speaking of a bar examination, the results of the California Bar Exam just came out. If your name was on the pass list, congratulations! If not, remember there’s always the February exam.
- Another fun pairing in GO TEAM with IT IS SO.
- The [Pulitzer winner for “The Shipping News”], Annie PROULX.
- The gorgeous stacking in the southwest: CRIME LAB, HIROHITO, and AVERSE TO.
I didn’t know LORY, the [Brightly colored Australian parrot]. Also foreign to me was NANTES, the [City on the Loire]. In the clue department, I loved [Title for some sisters] for AUNT, [Missouri and Ohio] for RIVERS, and [Not locked?] for BALD.
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 137” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here. Would you believe it? I forgot I was supposed to blog this puzzle today. Let’s get the party started.
- 25a. [Post-production devices?] – LATHES. Wow, great clue! Carpenters use lathes to make posts for stairway railings, etc.
- 28a. [Headstrong type, supposedly] – ARIES. So someone whose sign is Aries is headstrong, because Aries is the ram. I get it. A Pisces likes to swim, a Libra likes to weigh things, and a Leo likes to eat gazelle meat. I should get a job writing a horoscope column.
- 50a. [“___ Beautiful” (2005 hit)] – YOU’RE. I don’t listen to much popular music, but unfortunately I’ve heard this song. It makes me want to jam pencils into my ears. I’m demoting this puzzle 1 star for making me think about it.
- 13d. [Student drivers?] – BUSES. Wonderful clue.
- 34d. [Take the field?] – REAP. Another genius clue. Patrick Berry is good at puzzles.
- 10d. [What high waters reveal] – ANKLES. “Oh, I hate these flood pants! Hey, they’re working. My feet are soaked, but my cuffs are bone dry. Everything’s comin’ up Milhouse!”
- 37d. [Beat on the board?] – MATE. I’m not sure why this one has a question mark. Seems like a straightforward chess reference to me.
- 42d. [Beat on the boards] – OUTACT. Ha, clever. And I love the clue echo.
- 30d. [Short-lived sitcom spinoff of the 1980s] – AFTERMASH. I never realized how dumb that title sounds. I remember watching this show. That was back in the days (junior high/high school) when I watched TV pretty much all the time. Yes, including AfterMASH. Klinger and Colonel Potter worked at a hospital somewhere. And Klinger was married to a Korean woman. And I think he stopped wearing dresses. And I’ve still got that awful “You’re Beautiful” song in my head, so I’m outta here. See you next week.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “The Pardoned Turkey”
Merl spins out a pun-filled tale (all bird puns) in this pre-Thanksgiving puzzle:
- 22a. Tom Turkey’s earliest crimes were street crimes, such as JAY-WALKING. 28a, 30a. Soon he graduated to SELLING BEER / TO MYNAHS. 39a. Then he got caught passing BAD CHICKS. 48a. Naturally, he was charged with ABDUCKTION. (Uh, chicks are baby chickens, ducklings are baby ducks.) 61a. Of course, this is when he RAN AFOWL of … 71a. … the country’s MIGRATION LAWS. 82a. It seemed like everything Tom liked to do was ILL-EAGLE. 90a. Tom then started ROBIN BANKS … 100a. … because he wasn’t making enough money as a LOON SHARK. 113a. So his next stop was inevitable: Owlcatraz. He became just another JAILBIRD. 115a. But he saw the error of his ways and made a CLEAN BREAST of it. 122a. And here he is today, the luckiest turkey in America. And for the first time in his life, he’s not a FLIGHT RISK. Congratulations, Tom.
- 120a. [Peckinpah’s Cable], HOGUE.
- 5d. [Card game expert John], SCARNE.
- 55d. [Old coin of India (anagram of HUMOR)], MOHUR.
I say “whoa” to all three of those. I have seen EMIL Gilels and KEIR Dullea in plenty of other crosswords, and know DITH Pran from seeing The Killing Fields, but I could see the names being sticking points for plenty of solvers.
31d. [Straight-A’s ruiner], ONE B? Not in the language as a “thing.”
Highlights in the fill are rather sparse: HOME EC, TAKE HEAT … that’s about it.
Three stars. The theme didn’t particularly amuse me, but I imagine plenty of solvers got a kick out of it.
Steven J. St. John’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Flipping Out”
The theme answers are made by flipping the noun and verb in various “X the Y” phrases—and in every case, the verb is nounable and the noun is verbable.
- 24a. [Pay attention to a word game?], MIND THE BOGGLE. I would just call it Boggle and not “the Boggle.”
- 38a. [Ask, “Is this really diet?”], QUESTION THE POP. I’m a pop girl. What is this “soda” you speak of?
- 57a. [Trade with Marineland?], DEAL THE SEAL.
- 59a. [Find out whether a strikeout king is doping?], TEST THE ACE.
- 72a. [Advertise some prime real estate?], MARKET THE CORNER.
- 90a. [Present a styling award?], HONOR THE DO. “Do the honors” and “do me the honor of __” sound more in the language to me than “do the honor.”
- 93a. [Fill a cargo bay?], LINE THE HOLD. You can hear the E.L.O. song, right? Being sung by the longshoremen?
- 108a. [Move a chess piece?], POSITION THE MAN. “Man the position” doesn’t sound terribly in the language to me. Is this employment or sports?
- 127a. [Redecorate a castle?], CHANGE THE KEEP.
Solid theme concept, with a few iffy touches. Smooth fill overall, with assorted 7+ answers that add some sparkle (WHATNOT, SAYS WHO, EXORCISE, BRIOCHE, NONCHALANT, GET IN ON). 3.5 stars from me. How’d it treat you?