Ned White’s New York Times crossword
Solid Friday puzzle, with some fresh fill, little in the way of iffy fill, some interesting clues, and the perfect level of difficulty for its day. Four stars from me. Over and out.
What? You wanted more? If you insist.
Top fill: BRAT PACKER, REHYDRATE, I’VE HAD IT / UP TO HERE, BE AN ANGEL, KID SISTERS, FRABJOUS, CHEERIO, THREE-DAY weekends (who doesn’t appreciate that?), and ROLAIDS. Oh, and DAPHNE from Scooby-Doo.
- 18a. [She said “Don’t be humble. You’re not that great”], MEIR, Golda.
- 37a. [It might elicit a shrug], APATHY. I don’t care about apathy, I really don’t.
- 53a. [Giverny’s most famous resident], MONET.
- 54a. [Evidencing change?], JANGLY. Nobody likes an inveterate pocket jangler.
- 4d. [Digital print source?], TOE.
- 31d. [Mate via mail], PEN PAL. Did you read the clue as a verb phrase first and wonder how that worked?
No idea about these:
- 44a. [“There’s many ___ …”], A SLIP. AS LIP? A slip, “…twixt the cup and the lip.“
- 47a. [Composer Harris and others], ROYS. Paging Bruce M. Who on earth is Roy Harris?
Unimpressed by ISL., N-TEST, IS A, A SLIP, ROYS, three-S PSSST, CVII, FAINTISH.
Loren Smith’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Front Rhos” — pfannonica’s write-up
I confess that I don’t understand what holds this theme together. Exhibit A: The title: “Front Rhos.” Rho is the Greek letter that looks like the modern P but is unrelated. Visual comparison: Ρ, ρ, ϱ : P, p. The capitals are nearly indistinguishable (at least in the blog’s typeface). Exhibit B: 64a [What the people who came up with the spellings of 17, 21, 40, and 57 Across apparently were] PEA-BRAINED. All right, keep that in mind. Continuing: the four theme entries enumerated are longish words beginning with a silent P, obviously fulfilling the “front” element of the title. Let’s list and consider them in typical FiendCo. write-up style:
- 17a. [Term that means “treatment of the soul”] PSYCHIATRY. The good news: the etymology is Greek. The bad news: the root is ψυχή, which begins with psi, not rho.
- 21a. [Canadian game bird] PTARMIGAN. Aside: have always loved this word. Moving on, ptarmigans are holarctic in distribution (though the familiar white-tailed ptarmigan is indeed restricted to North America). That they are found in the Old World is sensible, as the common name is a modification of Scottish Gaelic tarmachan. Where the initial p comes from, I don’t know. The name entered English in the 16th century, so perhaps it was the contemporary penchant for Latinizing many things to within an inch of their lives. Nevertheless, no rho.
- 40a. [Old German coin] PFENNIG. You’ll be unsurprised to hear (I don’t say learn) that it’s the source of our penny. The pf- lexeme is common in German, originates from the Great Consonant Shift of I-Can’t-Bother-To-Look-It-Up-Long-Ago-Century and has, you guessed it, nothing to do with rho.
- 57a. [Affliction of the lungs] PNEUMONIA. From the Greek πνεῠ́μων (lung), whose first letter is pi, which is also – you guessed it – not rho.
So, four-for-four for that “front rho” not being a rho at all. From this perspective, the puzzle’s title makes no sense. Back to the revealer. The clue, once again, is [What the people who came up with the spellings of … apparently were]. The pivotal words here are spellings and apparently. “Spellings” places the focus on (English) orthography rather than etymology. “Apparently” is a more generalized, get-out-of-jail, weasel word, but don’t misunderstand me and think I’m being scornful—I use such words often, more than I should. But let’s think about the clue some more. “PEA-BRAINED,” at face value—which is to say, in its metaphorical sense—means to have a small, pea-sized brain and presumably limited intellect.
However, it seems the intent in context is primarily to emphasize the Ps which start each theme answer. Disregarding the conflict with rho in the title, this is not so bad as a way to characterize the four themers, but it’s still somewhat (see? a weasel word!) problematic. How? Because now the element of a homophonic pun has been introduced, which adds another layer of complication and confusion. The conventional spelled-out version (name) of the letter P is is “pee,” not “pea.” Of course, PEE-BRAINED means not much aside from describing puerility, and has no independent standing (that is, it isn’t a recognized preëxisting phrase). Now, were I to think of PEA-BRAINED as a revealer in a crossword, I’d probably expect the other answers to contain words like POD, VINE, SHOOTER, SPLIT, et cetera. To summarize my take on the revealer with a clever SEGUE (67a), it tries to split the difference between the metaphorical and the somewhat literal yet succeeds in neither. So, even divorced from the “rho” issue of the title and despite the deployment of the two extenuating words, the revealer remains fraught.
Now, the good news! The puzzle’s fill – including the four theme answers, let me emphasize – is very strong and—
Oh, wait. One more thing. 40d [Sacred hymn] PSALM. Another silent initial P. Not a rho either, but I should think you already knew that by now. The original Greek ψαλμοί begins with psi, just like PSYCHOLOGY (17a). This entry isn’t identified in the revealer and its symmetrical partner (MR BIG) does not possess the relevant characteristic. As such, 40d is an unauthorized interloper, employing the theme conceit but not officially part of the theme, and further muddies the field.
We now return to the beneficent part of the write-up. The medium-length theme entries (two pairs of which contain words that physically overlap each other significantly: four letters) provide room for the ballast fill to stretch out and intermesh well. The quartet of seven-letter downs is commendable and the bottom two have tough clues: NBC NEWS, UGLIEST, TRIUMPH [Ancient Roman equivalent of a ticker-tape parade], JAMAICA [Spanish Town location].
- Puzzle begins with a toughie: 1a [ __ Bill Weedles (Land of Oz character)] CAP’N.
- Trickiest clue: 23a [Holes in trunks] NAVELS. 47a [Try to see the present?] UNWRAP is fun, too.
- Favorite clue pair: [Habiliment] and [Harbinger] for TOGS and OMEN, respectively. (33a, 12d)
- Head to toe: 9a [Fancy hairstyle] UPDO, 55d [Fancy footwear] HEELS.
- Other clues of note: the alliterative OWEN [Wister who wrote westerns], the concise yet evocative [Frog-pond sounds] for PLOPS. (34d, 48d)
Good but troubled puzzle.
Gareth Bain’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
As the more of astute of you have already noticed, I’m scheduled to blog my own puzzle today. Obviously I’m not fit to objectively review it, but I’m more than qualified to summarise how the theme is supposed to work, and I can give you a bit of insight as to what went on behind the scenes.
First off, I’m surprised Rich Norris chose to run this on a Friday. Normally he runs wordplay themes on Fridays, and considering that’s (mostly) the only day he runs them on, I assume he isn’t running low? But I think the change is good, lest things become to predictable!
The theme is MINCEDOATHS, which are defined as interjections that are altered forms of swear words. The minced oaths here are minced a second time, in this case in the cryptic crossword sense where it’s one of many clues to anagram. We have MIDDLEAGED (EGAD = “Oh G–!”), OBJETDART (DRAT = “G– rot!”), SALLYRAND (DARN = “Damn!”, and COSTPRICES (CRIPES = “C—–!”). A bit flat as a set of theme answers? Maybe. My first draft had the anagrammed parts alternating from front to back, but that was vetoed: too difficult to explain which part to anagram without circles (which don’t appear in all the places the LAT is published) and too loose too (to heavily paraphrase, but I think that was the gist). Another idea I had was QUENTINTARANTINO as a theme answer, but the grid would have had to be 16×15, it would’ve been a tough sell…
Rich Norris rewrote the bottom-right corner. KKK at 62d was a terrible answer, in hindsight. He also (of course) changed a number of clues, less than normal though, which is weird because I wasn’t expecting this to run on Friday! Highlights in the changes:
- [*Celebrating the big five-oh, say], I had “big four-oh”. Fourty-somethings and can all breathe a sigh of relief!
- [*Dancer with many fans]. My clue was more straightforward. Clever!
- [Its young are called crias]. I wish I could take credit for that! (It could’ve been an in-joke for participants at learnedleague.com!)
- [The “you” in the 1968 lyric “Gee I think you’re swell”]. Terser than “The ‘you’ in “I really think you’re groovy / Let’s go out to a movie””.
Oh and don’t think you’re getting away without an earworm!
Mel Rosen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “On a First Name Basis” — pannonica’s write-up
It wasn’t until beginning to compose this summary that I looked at the puzzle’s title and appreciated the fullness of the theme. Until then I’d only thought that the gimmick was entries functioning as clues for other entries, cross-referenced. But it turns out those “other” entries are also people’s given names.
- 22a. [Definition for 13-Down] COFFEE, SLANGILY.
13d. [See 22-Across] JOE.
- 43a. [Definition for 45-Across] NIGHT BEFORE.
45a. [See 43-Across] EVE.
- 51a. [Definition for 67-Across] TAVERN TOTAL.
- 71a. [Definition for 63-Down] PLAINSPOKEN.
- 81a. [Definition for 46-Across] FRANK.
- 101a. [Definition for 98-Down] COLLEGE OFFICER.
- 36d. [Definition for 12-Down] BEAM OF LIGHT.
- 39d. [Definition of 100-Down] GENTLE TOUCH.
I was unfortunately at first deceived into thinking the theme was much, much tighter because the first pair I completed was 43a/45a; I thought all the cross-references would end up being sequential! No such luck – with the exception of the intersecting 101a/98d, none of the other pairs are proximate. Also, there’s no consistency with acrosses and downs among the relationships. So it turned out to be the kind of puzzle that may be an admirable feat of construction, but generally isn’t a crowd-pleaser: either an exercise in tedium, slavishly following the references, or a partially blind solving experience in which one simply ignores the cross-references and works with the more immediate and accessible clues.
- 65a [Density symbol, in physics] RHO. Say, where have I seen that recently? See also 89a [Pitchfork-shaped letters] PSIS. Bonus! 6d [Where H and Z rhyme] GREECE, that’s eta (Η, η) and zeta (Ζ, ζ).
- Opening down salvo of FCC, IOOF, and LIFO. Ew.
- Vaguest and most laughable clue, but probably just to me: 7d [Possum’s Australian cousin] PHALANGER. I won’t go into it here, but if someone needs to know, I’ll address it in the comments.
- Cute clue: [Prez after Bubba] DUBYA. (34d)
- Best clue? 51d [A bicycle’s built for two] TIRES.
- Last square filled: crossing of 44d [Alla __ (simple, in Sicily) BUONA and 60a [Anwar’s predecessor] GAMAL. Yes, I had an O there.
Okay puzzle, rather a slog.