Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword
This puzzle has the same vibe as the scene in A Christmas Story when the mailman finally brings Ralphie the decoder ring he’s been waiting for, and Ralphie sets to work like any eager puzzler to decode the secret message now that he has the proper tools. And the message is nothing but shallow marketing: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Ralphie feels like he’s been played for a fool. Here, we have a puzzle with all sorts of subpar fill, and the payoff is … there is apparently something on May 1 called LEI DAY (who knew? not I), and there is a lei in the grid made not of orchids but of LEI LEI etc. The words ALOHA and HULAS round out the theme.
The fill on my list of disliked answers includes ALIA, FELID, ROAN, YIPE, ELO, ADIA, AFLOW (good lord, what is that? [Running, poetically]?), the French trio of SERIE (?!)/ESSAI/CLAIR (and [Montaigne work]’s only cue that the answer is French is the presence of Montaigne’s name, so woe to the solver who doesn’t know that [Charlotte ___, Virgin Islands] is spelled AMALIE and not AMALYE crossing ESSAY), A-LEVEL, ODER, OLEIC, PIELS, A PLOT, YALE U., EELERS, AGLARE, EEO, and IER. The influx of forced L’s, E’s, and I’s doesn’t make for crisp fill, does it?
Actually, I’m not sure SERIE is French. [Something watched on télévision], is that specifically French accenting? I am more familiar with the Italian soccer league Serie A.
Usually Paula’s puzzles (particularly her themelesses) have markedly better fill than this. It’s a surprise to see this much clunky fill under her byline. Two stars. The ODER is AFLOW.
Erik Agard’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s Review
Erik’s theme seems almost minimalist in this day and age. Three theme answers (12,10,10) and a 12-letter revealer: SHUFFLEBOARD. Bear in mind that with a 12-letter revealer, the constructor has to use the 4th/12th row for the first pair of theme answers. This all but caps the number of theme answers at four. We’ve had a few anagram themes recently, and this is another. Each theme answer begins with the letters BOARD in some other arrangement. Only the first, BROADSTROKES, is contained within one word: the next two spill over into a second. BROADSTROKES is colourful, BARDOFAVON solid, and BADROMANCE lends a contemporary feel to the puzzle. A very nice collection of theme answers!
The most striking thing about the rest of the puzzle is the high-Scrabble-value answers. The average Scrabble score is 1.84 which is very high! I’m a bit ambivalent about their use here though. 1a is JANDJ, a classic crossword contrivance. I like the clueing angle on the crossing JORDAN a lot though: [Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” river], what has been called “extra-effort clueing.” I’m also not sure that the additional X’s in the bottom-left are a plus. UNIX is very familiar to me growing up in a computer programming family, but it feels like adding an answer that’ll be obscure to many just to get an X in. I like its ZANY/ZEUS counterweight a lot more; and also the central BRONX (which gets more NY flavour from nearby CONEY island)! [Feel free to rebut this vociferously in the comments of course!] Another interesting extra-effort clue is [Puffed cereal with a Berry Berry variety]: They named a cereal by making a pun on Vitamin B1 deficiency??? Bizarre!
Overall I’d say this is a solid puzzle, with nice theme answers. I may have devoted a lot of text to it, but the Scrabble issue had only a minor influence on my solving experience… 3.4 stars.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Mayday!” – Dave Sullivan’s review
This puzzle was written specifically for today, the first of May or May Day. But instead of dancing around a maypole, constructor Patrick Blindauer gets rid of that space and reinterprets the phrase as a distress call at sea, or S.O.S.
Of the four theme entries, SIGNS OF STRUGGLE is the only questionable phrase in my mind, the others are rock solid. (Too bad one of my favorite bands from the ’80s, SWING OUT SISTER is a letter shy of 15, and it would also break the middle OF pattern.) A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR is probably my favorite, since “…it helps the medicine go down!” Check out the robotic robin in the clip below (can you imagine what today’s CGI might do?):
My FAVE entry hands down is ELLEN Ripstein of “Wordplay.” She can seriously solve puzzles and twirl some batons! Right next door, though was my UNFAVE: VIGGO Mortenson of “Hidalgo”–I almost called out “Mayday!” for that one!
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Change Is Gonna Come”
Backwards currency is the name of the game:
- 56a. [Change, e.g., and a hint to this puzzle’s theme], MONEY BACK.
- 17a. [How some prefer to go out], WITH A BANG. Baht backwards in the circled squares.
- 27a. [Lamb Chop’s partner], SHARI LEWIS. Lira.
- 34a. [Song that begins “Hey, where did we go, days when the rains came”], BROWN EYED GIRL. Yen.
- 40a. [Array in a honeymoon suite], ROSE PETALS. Peso.
- 53a. [British battleship], MAN-O’-WAR. Won.
Favorite fill: Peter TORK (he dropped out of Carleton College), “SHALL WE?,” BROUHAHA, LADY DAY, FREE WILL.
- 1d. [Vehicle that removes wrecks], TOW CAR. I know tow trucks but not TOW CARs.
- 55a. [Doors tune?], CAROL. As in a Christmas carol sung at various doors.
- 11d. [Stooges album with “Search and Destroy”], RAW POWER. Did not know this one.
- 60a. [Roman four, if there’s no V handy], IIII. What are the rules for when IIII is legit and not just IV?
- 20a. [Draft], COOL AIR. I checked the dictionary and yes, if it’s warm air, it’s not a draft. It may be a breeze instead.