Severin Nelson’s New York Times crossword
I solved this puzzle last Thursday and it actually took me a couple days to notice two more theme entries. I wonder if I’m particularly dense or if they eluded enough other solvers that asterisking the theme clues would have been useful. The theme is the four seasons, which is apt because the Upper Midwest is currently locked in a death struggle between winter (snow!) and spring, while it’s fall defeating summer in the other hemisphere.
- 8a, 71a, 1d, and 54d are all clued [One of the four seasons], and the answers obviously are (going clockwise) SUMMER, AUTUMN, WINTER, and SPRING, in a logical order.
- 32a. [Nicolas who painted “The Four Seasons”], POUSSIN. I don’t know this painting. Am I a philistine?
- 48a. [Antonio who composed “The Four Seasons”], VIVALDI.
- 7d. [Bill who co-owns the Four Seasons hotel company], GATES. Little-known trivia?
- 57d. [Frankie of the Four Seasons], VALLI.
Yes, I missed seeing the 5s for days. Did everything jump out at you?
The grid has 80 words, two more than the usual cap of 78. The fill is surprisingly rough for an 80-worder with 48 theme squares (which is not a small theme but also not a huge one). My eyes goggled at 44a: [City south of Kyiv], ODESA. I’ve never seen a 5-letter transliteration for that city before. But Google Maps shows me the Kyiv/Odesa combo, and also the Cyrillic-alphabet version. Wikipedia suggests the two-S spelling is a transliteration from Russian and the one-S from Ukrainian (“Russian: Оде́сса; or Ukrainian: Одеса”). Who knew? This certainly is not common crossword fill.
The fill also requires a smattering of French: NOTRE, TRISTE, ETÉ, and RIRE, and if you don’t know your French painters or your [Laugh, in Lille], good luck to you in getting the first vowel in RIRE. (One of the Chicago Marbles Crossword Tournament finalists missed that letter.) Also the Latin RES.
Also rough-edged: The preponderance of word fragments and partials. OSSE-, PTERO-, -ITE, -ENNE, -OON, I AT, IT A? Too much! Plus more than 20 capitalized names of people and places—these render a puzzle far more challenging to solvers who don’t love to be quizzed on names.
The theme is all right (though perhaps a hair too subtle for a Tuesday offering?) but the fill was surprisingly difficult for a Tuesday puzzle. 2.5 stars.
John Verel and Jeff Chen’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This puzzle focuses on just one season, the one that is clinging to Minnesota as if its life depended on it—winter. (No sooner did the rain wash away last week’s 6″-8″ of snow than another big winter storm warning landed.)
- 17a. [O’Neill drama set in Harry Hope’s saloon], THE ICEMAN COMETH.
- 28a, 30a. [With 30-Across, drama based on ’70s presidential interviews], FROST/NIXON.
- 40a. [Drama about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine], THE LION IN WINTER.
- 52a. [With 54-Across, “Viva La Vida” rock group, and what 17-, 28-/30- and 40-Across each is?], COLDPLAY or COLD PLAY. It’s a bit of a cheat to split Coldplay’s name in half, of course. It took me a while to see that “cold play” referred to playwrights’ works of art; I thought of Frost/Nixon and The Lion in Winter as movies rather than their play predecessors.
Plusses: The inclusion of “The” in two play titles; nobody loves a “with ‘The'” clue. The four long Down answers—SPEAK FREELY, ALMOST DONE, HAND IN HAND, BLEW ONE’S TOP. The wake-up-our-eyeballsness of a grid with left-right symmetry. (If only the puzzle had six-way symmetry like a snowflake.)
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Xzibit A”
Hip-hop’s Xzibit is exhibit A here, and Matt gathers (or concocts) four other phrases with the XZ letter combo:
- 16a. Place to find zebras in New York], BRONX ZOO. Real place.
- 31a. What one undecillion contains], THIRTY-SIX ZEROES. Contrived phrase.
- 39a. 85003, 85004 and 85007, for example], PHOENIX ZIP CODES. Contrived phrase.
- 57a. Bond villain played by Christopher Walken], MAX ZORIN. In A View to a Kill.
Nice to throw in another Bond name, LAZENBY. I also like MYLAR, DITZY, pretty PHLOXES, MR. ROBOTO (“domo arigato”), HOHOS, and ABUELA. TEN TONS, LIFE’S GOOD, and I GOT STUNG are semi-contrivances, but I still like the latter two.
- 36a. [Last word in a 1978 #1 song title], OOGIE. As in “Boogie Oogie Oogie.”
- 59a. [Miss Montana?], HANNAH. As in the fictional Hannah Montana.
- 1a. [“The Simpsons” small businessman], APU. Could’ve been MOE, too.
- 2d. [Blender setting], PUREE. Am I the only one who always enters PU**E for the blender setting just in case it’s PULSE this time? It’s a blender button, but of course better clued in other ways. (See also: AVOW/AVER, EVICT/EJECT, SEE RED/SEETHE.)