Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Bonus Features”
I am grateful to infomercials for giving this whole theme away. The central answer is clued 70a: [Infomercial line … with a hint to 10 answers in this puzzle], and “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!” filled itself right in. And then 6d: [It’s known for its big busts], starting with MOUNT, had to be MOUNT RUSHMORE, and there’s the MORE turning to the right. That’s the theme: a bunch of answers that bend to finish up with MORE.
Besides 6d, the other theme answers are:
- 61a. [Sun spot?], BALTIMORE. The Baltimore Sun is where the delightful John McIntyre edits copy and writes a language usage blog.
- 108a. [Minimalist’s philosophy], LESS IS MORE.
- 110a. [Dean Martin classic], THAT’S AMORE.
- 1d. [President who was not elected], FILLMORE. I started with FORD fitting perfectly into the four squares of 1d and I know I’m not alone.
- 10d. [Bauxite, e.g.], ALUMINUM ORE.
- 22d. [Second or tenth, in a way], SOPHOMORE. Second-year student in a college, tenth-grader in high school.
- 65d. [College near Philadelphia], SWARTHMORE.
- 67d. [“Go on …”], TELL ME MORE.
- 106d. [White rapper with two #1 hits], MACKLEMORE. Really not sure why “white” is in the clue. (EMINEM is at 93a without mention of his skin color.) “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” are the #1s, and “Same Love”, a rap in support of marriage equality, also got a lot of play.
The fill’s got a lot of pep, with UP TO NO GOOD, MOTOR HOME, PARANORMAL (121a. [Spirited?]), APOSTROPHE (128a. [Will-o’-the-wisp feature]), BIG DUMMY (raise your hand if you hear that in Redd Foxx’s voice, as heard here), APLOMB, and GLOM providing style. The clues feel fresh, too. 4.5 stars from me. In a world of Sunday-sized puzzles that we plod through, this one was fun and contemporary. (I know there are solvers who will grouse about being expected to know MACKLEMORE and whatnot, but hey, this is a blog that appreciates contemporary content.)
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 170”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Karen Tracey returns with a quintessential Karen Tracey freestyle puzzle: lots of highbrow culture, lots of rare letters, and more than a few proper names. Karen’s voice is unique, so I welcome her byline. Her puzzles are like a rich chocolate mousse–a welcome and refreshing change, though because of the high-falutin’ cultural references I wouldn’t necessarily want a steady diet of them.
The 68/30 grid features a couple of quad-stacked 7s and a wide-open midsection. Only four answers are more than ten letters long, but they intersect, and the two 14s each feed into two corner stacks.
Like I said, this puzzle has a lot of culture, and not the pop culture to which I am accustomed. To help you feel superior to me, here is my catalog of answers that took a while to fall:
- PALAZZI are [Patrician Venetian residences], the plural of “palazzo,” Italian for “palace.” I spent a week in Florence and Siena last summer, and I’m sure I saw my fair share of palazzi, but I probably would have called them “big places.”
- If you want to double my solving time, add some biblical clues. I’ve heard of CANA but don’t immediately think of it as the [Miracle site in John]. (And yes, I first read this clue as [Miracle site in the John], which had Inner Beavis tingling with excitement.) If I ever go on Jeopardy!, I’m going to memorize the list of Bible books. Then I’ll have a chance with clues like [Book after Lev.], which proved to be NUM-bers. My aversion to Bible clues completely psyched me out of the relatively simple [Guide, in the Bible]. I didn’t need to know a noun, just the synonym for the word “guides” as it would likely appear in the Bible, LEADETH.
- [Omero, per esempio] clues OSSO. Um, yeah. Sure. How could it be anything else, right?
- The second word in [Certain Goidelic language] may just as well have been “turtle,” because it meant nothing to me. Luckily, when you have a four-letter language that you’re reasonably sure ends in -SE, it has to be ERSE. What erse, er, else?
- So there’s an opera by Handel called “ARIANNA in Creta.” Wonder if it’s about Ms. Huffington’s battles against the Minotaur? That would be cool.
- ESTELLA was [Gwyneth’s “Great Expectations” role]. I had high hopes for Great Expectations (thank you, thank you–I’m here all week), but I never saw it.
- An EOLITH is the [Ancient stone once thought to be man-made but now believed to have been produced by glaciation]. Before writing this post, I assumed it was “the Eolith,” a single item like Stonehenge or some other natural wonder. But a little webs urfing confirms that there are many eoliths, best described as “crude artifacts resembling flint nodules.” Of course, flint nodules. Just like mom used to make.
- Okay, this one may not be “high culture,” but it takes more than exposure to everyday culture to know that the JAPANESE BEETLE is a [Rose garden pest]. Had the “g” in “garden” been capitalized, the answer would have been KOBE BRYANT. (You’re welcome, five readers who got that.)
- Click here to have a listen to singer-songwriter THEA Gilmore. She’s covering a song that dominated the pop charts back in my youth, and I think I’m partial to her version.
Thank goodness for all the time I spent in Arizona and New Mexico, else I never would have sussed out KOKOPELLI, the [Humpbacked fertility deity of Southwestern tribes]. As it was, I struggled to remember it. In my next life, I hope to be a humpbacked fertility deity.
- SENNIT is not how a kindergartener might misspell one of the houses of Congress–it’s [Braided straw used to make hats]. Straw hats, I’m guessing.
Of course, not everything in the grid was high-culture. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the clue for SABU, [One–named professional wrestling champion who often wears a kaffiyeh]. Only hardcore fans of hardcore wrestling would know this–and yes, it was right in my wheelhouse. I feel like this clue was written just for me and yet it’s not even close to my birthday! That was a nice treat. There was also IKE, the [“Runaway Bride” groom] and Bob MCGRATH from Sesame Street, though I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that I knew that one right away.
Anyone else fall for the great trap as 53-Across? [Some casino employees], ending in -LERS. Had to be DEALERS, right? PITBOSSES, COCKTAILSERVERS, STRONGMEN–nothing else would fit But nope, it was TELLERS, the folks behind the cashier’s cages who count your chips and pay you a fraction of what you invested at the table.
Favorite entry = CHICKEN SCRATCH. Yes, [It’s hard to read], but it’s also a very lively term. Favorite clue = [One who uses a stimpmeter] for the GREENSKEEPER at the golf course. I loved this clue because I knew I had seen “stimpmeter” more than once, but I couldn’t immediately recall the context or, thus, its meaning. But once I had some letters in place, it came to me. A great “aha moment,” which is one of the big thrills of crossword solving. (The stimpmeter, by the by, is “a device used to measure the speed of a golf course putting green by applying a known force to a golf ball and measuring the distance traveled in feet.” So say our friends at Wikipedia.)
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
70-word themeless from the atelier of constructor Tony Orbach that features 3 grid-spanning 15 letter entries:
- The clue [“Seriously?”] gives us I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU – played with “don’t” and “won’t” before “can’t” fell; is one more idiomatic than another?
- Funny that I figured out that [Style seen in ancient amphitheaters and modern runways] clues GLADIATOR SANDALS given that I’ve never heard that phrase before. I’m thinking they use leather thongs instead of wider straps to keep your feet in place, but what do I know about modern fashion?
- [“It’s true!”] is TAKE MY WORD FOR IT, which we will.
I’m a bit baffled by these entries that anchor the grid–the way the grid lays out (on the high end of a themeless word count and these entries not being stacked), I would’ve imagined they might have something in common. (A “mini-theme” perhaps?) The first and last entry could be seen as a call and response, but those sandals don’t add much to that conversation. My FAVEs were the mid-length GRANOLA BAR, CIABATTA, BAD HAIR DAY and ALL THE RAGE. I also enjoyed the shout out to Kenmore Square in Boston with the clue [Oil company with a sign visible from Fenway Park] or CITGO. A few years ago Citgo told the city it would not pay for the electricity to light that sign anymore, but it was such an icon, now the city pays for it. Free advertising!
I was less a fan of uncommon (at least to me) words like DEYS ([Ottoman governors] and in the marquee 1-Across position) DOTTLE ([Pipe residue]), SPANDREL (with a long clue about what part of a window this is) and E-ZINE (which I see only in X-WORDS). My UNFAVE though was the partial AIR OF, as in “An air of nobility” which had an air of unpleasantness for this solver.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “One Direction” — pannonica’s write-up
Another insertion theme. For this one, the letters W-A-Y are added to the end of one of the words in an original phrase.
- 22a. [Grocery clerk’s action?] SAFEWAY CONDUCT.
- 26a. [“We finished the planking; you can board now”?] THE GANGWAY’S ALL HERE. Hail, hail.
- 61a. [Golfer’s problem?] NO FAIRWAY. I’m thinking that would be a serious problem indeed.
- 94a. [“Career models, here’s the ___”?] RUNWAY FOR YOUR LIVES.
- 102a. [Cookie thief?] ARCHWAY VILLAIN.
- 29d. [Tim’s portraitist?] CONWAY ARTIST.
- 30d. [Smooth traffic flows?] HIGHWAY HOPES.
- 39d. [Theater musicians?] BROADWAY BAND.
- 40d. [Nicely adorned interstate?] FANCY FREEWAY.
First item of note: constructor Hook’s trademark stacks and overlaps. The vertical theme answers—as pairs—coincide for their full 12-letter lengths, i.e., are perfectly stacked. The first and last pairs of of across themers coincide for 11 letters; the answers are 14 and 18 letters in length, so that’s about a 69% overlap. There’s only one remaining theme answer: the unpaired central across.
Second item of note: thematic pairings. In the first and last across themers, the transformed words are brand names: the primarily western US supermarket chain SAFEWAY and the US (low-end?) cookie brand ARCHWAY. Among the verticals, but not precisely a symmetrical pair, are two explicitly automotive -ways: FREEWAY and HIGHWAY, though the latter has a pre-industrial origin. I find it impressive, considering the theme and the times in which we live, that there are only two such answers.
- Most obscure fill: 56a [Star cluster in Taurus] HYADES, 106a [Cubic measures] STERES. Some crosswordese: ISERE, possibly ARHAT, possibly DORF. And I know I’ve been doing crosswords too long when I see the clue 16d [Zilch] N––– and the first instinct is to write in NADA rather than NONE.
- Interesting bit of trivia: 6a [Woody’s mom-in-law, ironically] MIA. Well, not so much trivia as perspective.
- At first, I scowled at 64a [Lab. partner?] cluing the not-so-fun abbrev. NEWF., but then I appreciated that both are breeds of dogs that come from the same Canadian province: Labrador and Newfoundland. On the other hand, I started out not liking 81a DEX [Stimulating sulfate, for short] and continued not liking it (dextroamphetamine, Dexedrine®). Not excited by 23d [Old nuclear org.] AEC.
- Unpretty partials and fills in-the-blanks: A WHO, A BEE, I’M A, I GET, MAY GO, IN EACH, FOO, VESTI, TOITY, CANEM, BUT OH.
- Had ASK for ICH as the [Start of a JFK quote], 28a. Considered CREWS for CRAWL [TV credits list], 83a.
- Something about the stack from 36a to 52a: VOILÀ / FIRST / COACH /VIOLA …
- Rut-ROH (107a), was this a dicey clue? [Son of a bitch?] PUPPY (87a).
- IFFY (72d) plurals: ANDYS, DEPAUWS. (59a, 77d)
Despite the above litany, this was an impressively constructed puzzle and the negatives I’ve listed are acceptable fallout. Besides, the bulk of the fill and clues were good or above average.
Hm, since I’ve already included two “classic” rock songs as my only links, may as well add another: “ANYONE for Tennis?” (101a)
Gail Grabowski’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Tee Time”
That’s a pronounced “tee” in the title, not a spelled one—the theme answers add a “tee” sound, spelled TY, to the end of a word:
- 27a. [Really old deck of cards?], RATTY PACK.
- 29a. [Feline in the headlines?], PRESS KITTY.
- 48a. [Thief who begs to be arrested?], CRIME NOVELTY. One of two that doesn’t add TY to a __T word.
- 65a. [Frogumentary?], WARTY FILM. And this is the other. Cute clue, and better than cluing WARTY FILM as a bumpy layer applied to something.
- 82a. [Price tag on a toilet for tots?], POTTY STICKER. Breakfast test! You have turned a Chinese dumpling into something that gets pooped in.
- 101a. [Humongous harbor wall?], JUMBO JETTY. Jetties are boring.
- 104a. [Sitcom with spiteful scripts?], CATTY SHOW.
- 36d. [Flickering bulb?], SPOTTY LIGHT.
- 40d. [Nitpicking kid minder?], PETTY SITTER.
Boy, I had to work a lot of crossings to get 87d. [Balloon or blimp], AEROSTAT. Least familiar word in the whole puzzle. The nonspecific NUT OIL (72a. [Macadamia product]) is also weird. I’ve seen peanut oil and walnut oil, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen macadamia oil. And I have zero recollection of 63a: DWAYNE [Hickman who portrayed Dobie Gillis].
I’m pretty sure there are bodegas all over New York City that serve much more than just the LATINO population. Is [Bodega patron] more specifically Latino in Los Angeles? I don’t think anyone in Chicago calls those stores “bodegas.” We have convenience stores, corner stores, mini-marts, groceries.
Overall, the fill is pretty solid, if undistinguished. The theme works and has a bit of humor to it. 3.8 stars.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated crossword, “Common Denominator”
The theme concept is flat—phrases with “C.D.” initials—but Merl finds a lively batch of entries to keep the puzzle interesting.
- 23a. [Noble with a drinking problem], COUNT DRACULA.
- 25a. [Brand of sparkling wine], COLD DUCK.
- 31a. [“Father” of Wackford Squeers], CHARLES DICKENS. No idea what Wackford Squeers means! Checking … Nicholas Nickleby character.
- 53a. [Hit song of 1966], CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’.
- 74a. [Hit film of 1986], CROCODILE DUNDEE. I know the name, of course, but am pleased to report I never saw any of the Crocodile Dundee movies. (I have, however, seen an Ernest movie. Let he who is without sin, yadda yadda.)
- 95a. [It extends from the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan], CONTINENTAL DIVIDE. I am partial to the subcontinental divide that traverses my husband’s hometown.
- 118a. [TV staple], COURTROOM DRAMA.
- 125a. [Zesty weenie], CHILI DOG.
- 127a. [Snack-aisle selection], CHEEZ DOODLES.
- 16d. [Drugstore buy], COUGH DROPS.
- 80d. [Mega-selling vocalist], CELINE DION.
In the non-thematic fill, I like FINAGLE, CODE RED, and “CALL IT IN” best. The Scowl-o-Meter went off a few times, though. UNA, ERLE, ASCH, ABR, REO, AGAR, EFT, and MOA were a few too many, and there were three particular trouble spots:
- 9d. [Also containing a certain antioxidant, on labels], PLUS C. Feels mighty contrived.
- 29d. [Pressurized fuel: abbr.], LNG. Say what?? My motorhead son doesn’t know this one either. Looked it up: it stands for “liquified natural gas.”
- 51d. [(You) have, in Le Havre], AVEZ. Conjugate verbs in French!
3.5 stars. The theme entries are terrific but the fill was not up to the same level.