Check out Noah Veltman’s data-crunching using a database of NYT crossword entries from 1996-2012 and the Google Books Ngram tool. Right there at the top of the list of “crosswordiest” fill is ASEA. We may think it’s a super-common word because of how often we see it in crosswords, but really, it’s a rarity in books. There’s also a neat tool that shows you both the clues that have been used for an entry and the commonest keywords that appear in the clues. For example, OREO’s top 10 clue words are cookie, Nabisco, snack, treat, flavor, cream, ice, creme-filled, 1912, and creme. Poke around and see what grabs you.
Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Black Cats”
Jeff’s theme is black CATs, meaning three black squares hiding the letters C-A-T within nine long, interrupted answers. The feline blocks are in the four plus signs and the dash in the central row.
- 30a. [Offense that’s provoked by lurid news], COPYcat CRIME.
- 43a. [Author who wrote about frontier life], WILLA CatHER.
- 63a. [Sowed one’s wild oats], TOMcatTED. The wild oats are not to be confused with 64d: OAT BRAN.
- 88a. [Base of Asti win], MUScat GRAPE. Sweet.
- 102a. [Dominatrix’s wear], LATEX catSUIT. Mrowr!
- 6d. [The Pied Piper of Hamelin, e.g.], RAT catCHER.
- 14a. [Screwball character on “The Simpsons”], CRAZY Cat LADY.
- 58d. [Hero’s spot], DELIcatESSEN.
- 76d. [Modern R&R option], STAYcatION.
The grid’s got some nice wide-open spaces and long fill. Consider TADPOLE and “SO THERE” crossing SPARE TIRES; TERRORIST and TABLOID crossing PROP PLANES; RAW DATA crossing STARSHIP and BLOW-DRY; EVIL QUEEN; A.M. STATION crossing SPACEMEN; and “VERY WELL.” I’m not so sure about 16d: [Make the Billboard charts, say], SCORE A HIT; don’t think I like that one.
There are a number of question-marked clues I liked, too:
- 20a. [One on the verge of croaking?], TADPOLE.
- 49a. [Person on tap?], BARKEEP.
- 77a. [Chaise scene?], PATIO.
- 10d. [Middle weights?], SPARE TIRES.
How difficult do you think it was to pair up theme entries containing CAT so that the CATs landed in symmetrically opposite spots within the answers? I bet Jeff had a huge list of theme candidates and whittled it down to these nine, taking special care to make sure CRAZY CAT LADY and the other juicy answers stayed in the mix.
(Photo credits: Photo taken with an iPhone 4s. Pen: the erasable ballpoint Puzzle Pen, never goopy like the EraserMate pen. My client/boss Bernard Rome will be selling these again at the ACPT, along with the Crossword Puzzle Packs I edit.)
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge”- Sam Donaldson’s review
On a few occasions I have described my solving experience as “a tale of two puzzles.” This is especially true of today’s 70/28 freestyle from the master, Bob Klahn, as I had to stop at the 16:35 mark and take a break. I had the entire southern hemisphere solved by that point, but other than WEST SIDE, the [Sharks’ territory] in West Side Story, I had absolutely nothing above the line with 29-Across (BLADE, the [Switch attachment?]), 31-Across (PORES, the [Small sweaters]), and 32-Across (REO, the [Hudson contemporary]).
I even remember feeling somewhat excited when I plunked down IRENE ADLER at 26-Down to get things going. She was the [“A Scandal in Bohemia” character] that just had to be the right answer. I know the title as a Sherlock Holmes novel, and you almost always see Irene’s vowel-laced name in grids over characters like Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty. But I had to slow down a little with the [Heavy boots] known to all but me as BROGANS. And for some reason I could only think of Henry Fonda and Jack Klugman as possible answers to [He played Juror #9 in 1957’s “12 Angry Men”], not Hume CRONYN. (By the way, Wikipedia claims Joseph Sweeney was Juror No. 9, and it doesn’t even list Hume Cronyn or any other Cronyn as part of the cast. What’s going on here?)
Fortunately the southwest was a little easier, with BEER GARDEN, the [Outdoor establishment that originated in Southern Germany ] being a near-gimme and RAISIN BRAN, the [Post production?], being very get-able. The easiest clue in the puzzle for me was [Federation firearm] for a Star Trek PHASER.
But when I came up to the northern half of the grid I hit a wall. With only WEST SIDE sticking out for a long time, I had a puzzle that loosely resembled Bob’s elegant Groundhog Day puzzle. I knew then I needed to take a break and come back to the puzzle a little while later. It was veerry slow going at the start of what proved to be essentially the second half of my solve. Nothing was coming to me, even though I was forcing myself to think of every possible interpretation of the clues. One of the stickiest entries for me proved to be MOIETIES, clued here as [Halves]. Never ever heard of it, though my dictionary confirms that “moiety” means “a half.”
It wasn’t until I tried some variation of CONTRAIL for the [Jet stream] that I finally tumbled to VAPOR TRAIL. But all that seemed to give me in the crossings was EMO, the [Brooding genre] and RELY, here clued as [Bank] (sure would have appreciated an “(on)” at the end of that clue!). I took a stab at EVIL as [Belial’s bailiwick] even though I had no stinkin’ clue what that meant. I got lucky there, I guess, as that fed me ADAM AND EVE as the [Human prototypes]. From there the rest of the grid finally–FINALLY–gave way.
The only ones I feel bad about taking so long to see were ROOS for [Bush bounders] and EYE SORE for [Blight sight]. The rest was designed to kick it butt and it did so most effectively.
Favorite entry = TALE BEARER, the [Gossip]. Okay, okay, I’m kidding. That was awful. Let’s pretend that never appeared in the grid. Instead, I’ll choose SLIMING, the [“Ghostbusters” experience]. Favorite clue = [Smart adversary] for Maxwell Smart’s nemesis, KAOS.
Mike Shenk’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 147” – Doug’s review
Hey, crossword fans. Doug here with this week’s Post Puzzler. It’s a real winner, with a plethora of boffo entries and clues. It’s late, so I’m going right to bullets.
- 52a. [Appealing objective] – RETRIAL. I love when a constructor spices up a potentially ho-hum entry with a stellar clue.
- 62a. [“Bloop Bleep” singer] – DANNY KAYE. I totally thought the answer was going to be a cartoon character. Maybe Judy Jetson, but she didn’t fit. I must’ve been mixing it up with the classic ♫ “Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah / That means I love you” ♪
- 2d. [Capital served by Faa’a Airport] – PAPEETE. Wow, FAAA would be a useful crossword entry.
- 36a. [Mutual fund: stock :: ___ : property] – REIT. Real Estate Investment Trust. The analogy section was my favorite part of the SAT. I’m bummed that they got rid of it.
- 14d. [Service elevators?] – SERMONS. When you see “service” in a question-marked clue, your mind should immediately jump to church.
- 45d. [One with a showy mate] – PEAHEN. I’m visited by peahens and their showy mates quite frequently. I live near an arboretum that’s full of peafowl, and they walk and fly (sort of) all over the neighborhood. Here’s a picture I snapped of one crossing the street. They’re either very brave or very stupid, because they’ll dart right out in front of your car and then go into their slow walk.
- 9d. [Inspected fully] – SEEN OVER. Seems a little awkward. I can’t think of a good sentence using SEEN OVER in that way.
- 52d. [Numerical value for a letter] – RENT. Nope, not algebra. That’s the Clue of the Day, right there. Genius.
More good stuff sprinkled around the grid: HAPHAZARD, SPIT TAKES, IKEBANA, and BETA RAY.
Elizabeth Gorski’s Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “That’s a Wrap!”
Short on time = short review.
The letters in the word that’s “wrap” each theme answer:
- 23a. [Husky features], THICK COATS.
- 38a. [Disney film featuring Berlioz, Toulouse, Marie and their mom Duchess], THE ARISTOCATS.
- 71a. [Tom yum soup servers], THAI RESTAURANTS.
- 102a. [Packages from recent guests, perhaps], THANK-YOU GIFTS.
- 123a. [The Chicago Bulls had two in the ’90s], THREEPEATS.
- 14d. [Trademark caps for Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake], TRUCKER HATS.
- 71d. [Household regulators], THERMOSTATS.
I kinda wish the “wraps” had been THAT, as it would work better grammatically with the puzzle title. THE ARISTOCATS would have been sacrificed, but all those plurals palled.
6d. [Soloists in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6], VIOLISTS. Hey! Liz Gorski is herself a violist. She plays viola as well as blues guitar. (See also: 60a. LIZ, [First name in fashion].)
I wasn’t loving the fill in this one. While I liked seeing ACROSTIC, ST. LOUIS, NO CONTEST, and LAMEBRAIN in the grid, there were so many bits of crosswordese (TETR, REATA, OENO, RASE, AFT, TYES, ETNA, ERSE, RARA, ESTOP, STET, KTS) and names that likely appear in crosswords out of proportion to their impact in the broader culture (THORA, ALEK, URIS, SOLARA, “DO YA,” ASE’S). Those were all Scowl-o-Meter triggers today.
- 44a. [Nontraditional performance genre], LIVE ART. I have no idea what this is. How is it different from performance art? Is it a new name for performance art?
- 56d. [Friend of Shylock], TUBAL. Is this a Merchant of Venice character I have forgotten? Curious to see it clued this way, rather than as the fairly common and inoffensive TUBAL ligation.
2.75 stars. Too much Scowl-o-Meter action, no inherent playfulness in the theme, minimal “aha moment” payoff for connecting the title to the theme answers.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Almost Famous”
This week’s a full-on pun assault:
- 20a. [Ne’er-do-well cousin of a famous caregiver?], FLORENCE NIGHT IN JAIL. (Florence Nightingale.)
- 28a. [With 36 Across, poet who invented neck spray for dogs?], SAMUEL TAYLOR COLLAR ITCH. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge.) Is “collar itch” a thing?
- 44a. [Owner of the Twilight Grill?], ROD SIRLOIN. (Rod Serling.)
- 56a. [Singer who’s always on call?], JUSTIN BEEPER. (Justin Bieber.) Raise your hand if you still use a beeper/pager and you’re not a health-care professional.
- 67a. [Performer who was like other performers, only better?], MARCEL MORE SO. (Marcel Marceau.) “Mime” would have been a more helpful noun than “performer” here.
- 82a. [1980s tennis star who was a top seed?], IVAN LENTIL. (Ivan Lendl.)
- 88a. [With 97 Across, poet who was always up for hitting a few balls?], ALFRED LORD TENNIS ANYONE. (Alfred, Lord Tennyson.)
- 105a. [Film exec-turned-pet shop owner?], JEFFREY CATS AND BIRDS. (Jeffrey Katzenberg.)
I … wow. This one lost me. There’s no common thread other than “random puns on famous people’s names.” No theme to the type of pun, no consistency to the sound changes, no connection among the people used.
Never heard of:
- 78d. [Singer (with the Dakotas) for whom Lennon & McCartney wrote songs in the early 1960s, ___ Kramer], BILLY J. There aren’t a ton of choices for filling a **L**J spot that intersects two theme entries at the L and J.
- 22d. [Food store: abbr.], GROC. Not an abbreviation I recall seeing before. GROC looks nutty in the grid.
The grid is 20 squares wide instead of 21. I’m not sure why that would be. So that the long two-part answers would overlap by two squares instead of one?
The fill is pretty much standard Merl fill. The occasional longish partial, not much to call out as incredible or terrible. 2.75 stars, docking for the sheer randomness of the theme answers. I wanted more cohesion than just “famous people’s names punned on.”
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked Crossword, “Ethnic Jokes” — pannonica’s review
Demonym puns! And some of them are twofers! Get your groan caps on, kids, and buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
- 23a. [Race through the Pyrenees?] ANDORRANS CONTEST (endurance).
- 33a. [Silesian scarecrow?] STRAW POLE (poll).
- 41a. [Amplified Arab?] ELECTRIC QATARI (guitar). There seems to be a wide variation in the pronunciation of Qatar and Qatari, and more than once I’ve encountered advice invoking ‘guitar.’
- 62a. [Bohemian tossed from a bar?] BOUNCED CZECH (check). An oldie but a goodie.
- 69a. [Eurasian men’s outfit?] CROAT AND THAI (coat, tie). The first duodemonym! Nifty how the term Eurasian, thus appropriated, blends the European Croatia and the Asian Thailand. Rather than the more traditional sense of, say, palaearctic.
- 89a. [Prince of the Great Rift Valley?] THE GRAND KENYAN (Canyon). Teeny demerit for repeating ‘the’ in clue and answer, but what are you going to do? It’s a good pun (no oxymoron).
- 96a. [Follow a van through Helsinki?] TAIL FINNS (tailfins). Why a van? To emphasize the plural, I suppose.
- 111a. [“Assad’s from the Andes? Prove it!”] SYRIAN IS BOLIVIAN (seeing, believing). Twofer number two! Surely he can’t be Syria’s?
I found all of these puns to be goofy and highly entertaining, and the stretches don’t feel beyond the pale. The grid has a very integrated feel while solving; the mix of long and short themers with a minimum of long fill (but plenty of medium stuff) among the ballast material provides a good rhythm. And there’s some exotica among the bunch: TABOULI (listed as a variation, but that’s the spelling I most often see), Scrabbly ENZYME, MACAULAY Culkin (he’s Out There these days), 1952 Czech Olympic runner Emil ZÁTOPEK (not to be confused with the Mesoamerican Zapotec society, or even Volapük, but I digress…).
- 4d [Wet-weather boot] SHOEPAC completely new to me. Also did not know either Sonia or Alice BRAGA of filmdom (76d).
- 67a [With tear-dimmed eyes], persisted with SALTY for quite some time before the scales fell to reveal the more accurate SADLY.
- 38a & 104a: KID-LIT, ZOM-COM. I hadn’t realized the latter was substantial or pervasive enough to be a “thing.”
- 101a & 102a: why is the family Bufonidae and the order Chiroptera in double-quotes? Usually when I highlight something of this nature HH comments that it’s something to do with the publication’s house style and/or an artifact of the Across Lite coding process, so I’m going to preëmptively assume that the answer is that they were italicized in the print version. However, such taxonomic categories should not be italicized; that’s reserved for genus and species (and subspecies).
- 94a [Knuckle-headed prank] NOOGIE. You call it a prank, I call it abuse, or assault.
- So glad I recently learned from another puzzle in the last week or so that RAMONA is a famous novel by Helen Hunt Whatsername. (42d)
- 21a [10-Across’s prize] OSCAR. 10a [“GoodFellas” actor] PESCI. I was going to pose why GoodFellas was invoked instead of Home Alone (thus leading to a cross-reference with 9d [“Home Alone”‘s Caulkin], but then I realized he must have won the award for his performance in the Scorsese film and not the Hughes one—and so he did. Typographical notes: (1) 1990 seems like an early example for a mainstream intraCap. (2) dig that pile-up after Alone in the clue.
- Trickiest clue: [What do starts], huh? Ohhh… it’s do, from the solfège. SCALE.(18d)
- Ickiest fill: 32d HDQRS [Admin. ctrs.]. I can see my way to HQS, HQTRS, and even HDQTRS, but HDQRS is ugly looking. I’m not even going to check relative validities of the different versions.
- Absolute favorite clue: [Spy poop] for INTEL (46d).
Above average puzzle, very enjoyable.