Tracy Bennett’s New York Times crossword, “Artful Thinking”
I believe this is Tracy’s NYT debut, and it’s a good one. Deft puns with artists’ names:
- 23a. [Artist’s favorite spiritual?], WADE IN THE WATTEAU. “… water.”
- 43a. [Christmas song line from an artist?], ‘TIS THE CEZANNE. “… season.”
- 68a. [Artist’s favorite Broadway musical?], HELLO DALI. “Hello Dolly.”
- 89a. [Artist’s expression for “Such is life”?], QUE SERA SEURAT. “… sera.”
- 112a. [How the expert artist passed her exam?], WITH FLYING KAHLOS. “… colors.”
- 15d. [Artist’s line of weary resignation?], HERE WE GAUGUIN. “Here we go again.”
- 41d. [What the tipsy artist had at the bar?], ONE TOO MANET. “… many.” Note that this theme answer crosses three others. Intricate interlacing!
- 56d. [What the artist confused people with?], SMOKE AND MIROS. “… mirrors.”
Generally smooth fill, with lots of good longish answers: PERCOCET, colloquial ON BOARD, HOT SPOTS, unusual BOODLES ([Monetary bribes, in slang]), AQUAMAN, SHAKA Zulu. Roman POLANSKI above NO BALLS. PAKISTAN with a movie clue. The trio of HOP A CAB, CATCH A BUS, and GET A TAN (what? getting a tan can get you further in some areas). PEPSI-COLA. A lawn SPRINKLER. The BEE STING that’s an [Apiarist’s woe]—crossworder Doug Brown is a beekeeper and has a spreadsheet of his 31 stings. Another Facebook friend got 12 stings at once recently, and loathes the between-the-toes bee stings most.
It’s also nice to have an answer like JINX at 1-Across, and to see SALMA Hayek in the same puzzle as a Frida KAHLO theme answer (she portrayed the artist in the film Frida). There are some tough names scattered throughout the puzzle (e.g., AKEEM, NAISH), but the puzzle fell for me in a standard Sunday amount of time.
Did not know: 100d. [Phycologist’s study], ALGAE. Phycology is new(ish) to me.
I don’t care to see COEDS clued as if it’s a modern-day non-porny term. It isn’t. (Go ahead and Google it. Wikipedia’s article on mixed-sex education and a couple dictionary pages join a bunch of porny crap on the first page of results. The noun is absolutely besmirched.) [What Morehouse College lacks] is female students. [Students Yale first admitted in 1969] would be markedly better.
4.33 stars. Keep the puzzles coming, Tracy!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “One Fine Day at the Health Expo”
Overall, I liked this healthy-eating pun theme. A couple “meh” theme answers and a few rough spots in the fill, but overall a good ride. Here’s the theme:
- 21a. [Greeting heard at the health expo?], ALOE EVERYBODY. “Hello, everybody.”
- 25a. [Food-sampling sign at the seaweed booth?], KELP YOURSELF. “Help yourself.”
- 41a, 50a. [With 50 Across, meat-lover’s reason for not sampling the cereal?], I’M MUESLI MORE OF A / STEAK EATER. “I’m usually more…” Doesn’t quite work, does it? “I’m muesli more” is just nonsense.
- 57a. [Tune heard at the natural-soup exhibit?], THAT’S LENTIL-TAINMENT. “That’s Entertainment.”
- 69a, 80a. [With 80 Across, song heard at the “Berries Go with Everything” booth?], DON’T IT MAKE / MY BROWN RICE BLUE? “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”
- 97a. [Country with its own health-food booth at the expo?], YOGURTSLAVIA. Yugoslavia.
- 106a. [Like “regrets,” as heard at the “My Whey” booth?], TOFU TO MENTION. “Too few to mention.” Is “too few regrets to mention” a thing? “Tofu to mention” works … not at all, in terms of grammar.
- 8a. [Undergraduate deg. for future pastors or Bible school teachers], BRE. What, B.Re.? Never seen that in my life. Looking this up … It’s B.R.E., bachelor of religious education.
- 9d. [Colorful freshwater minnows], REDFINS. There are a number of “redfin ___” fish. I checked Wikipedia for “redfin minnow” and it referred me to this endangered not-really-a-minnow of Lesotho. Is there some more familiar redfin minnow that we are supposed to have heard of? (Note that there’s a real estate listing website called Redfin—which I only heard of this week, when a friend emailed the Redfin listing for the house she’s buying—but that’s not going to take a plural.)
- 17d. [Temple city east of Lisbon], EVORA. Roman temple. Population 57,000.
- 26d. [Atoll bought by Marlon Brando], TETIAROA. Anyone else try ROTOAROA first? No? Just me?
- 40d. [Monroe-Cotten film], NIAGARA. Entirely familiar place name, but I didn’t know Marilyn Monroe was in a 1953 movie by that name.
Favorite fill: TWO-BY-FOURS used by HOME BUILDERS. NONE TOO SOON. POKES FUN AT. 3d: [“We’re sitting on ___!”] A GOLD MINE—yes, it’s a long partial, but it’s lively.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
It’s very rare for a constructor to have a signature style that sets him or her apart from all other constructors, but I am very certain I would recognize a puzzle by Bob Klahn even without seeing his byline. Here are some of the hallmarks of his ouevre:
- Fun with clues: alliteration, such as today’s [Father figure?] for PADRE, [Burden bearer] for BEAST, [Waste watchers?] for EPA and [Northern nomad] for LAPP, to pairing adjoining clues, such as [Pass] for OPT OUT next to [“I’ll pass] for NAH.
- Solid fill by not pushing the grid limits: today’s themeless was a reasonable 70 words with no overly flashy heroics.
- Inclusion of a “mini-theme”: today, the two longest across entries are [Colin Dexter’s crossword-solving sleuth], who is INSPECTOR MORSE, paired with the [Best-selling novelist of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records], or the mystery author AGATHA CHRISTIE.
- Fair, but very tough, solve: today’s puzzle took me almost 30 minutes, and many times I felt on the verge of being completely stuck, most hopelessly in the upper left, where I had IMF, IMBIBE, PEKE and BREAK INTO, but nothing else for the longest time. It wasn’t until I made the connection between [Eliot’s weaver] and George Eliot’s Silas MARNER: The Weaver of Raveloe, did I finally see FIESTA, NAPA and MAIN EVENT for [Ring feature] (I was thinking of a wedding ring, of course).
Today’s puzzle had a bit of what some might call words (or abbreviations) only found in crosswords–the ACAI berry, AGIO for [Currency exchange fee], ISTS for [Believers at the end?], and ID NO for [Security figure, briefly], but they are generally redeemed by clever (and misleading) clues. I guess my only real problem was with the repetition of ON in ON TOAST and ON PAROLE, particularly because the former feels a bit incomplete as a stand-alone phrase.
These are all very minor nits in what is another consistently excellent and enjoyable challenge from one of today’s masters of the themeless puzzle.
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 172”- Sam Donaldson’s review
I’ve often described freestyle crosswords as a “tale of two solves,” nearly always meaning that part of the puzzle was comparatively easy while the rest was a Gordian Knot. But this week’s 70/29 freestyle from our friend, Doug Peterson, was a tale of two solves in a different way. At the seven-minute mark, I got a phone call I had to take. The call led to an errand I had to perform right away, and before I knew it I was hours removed from the puzzle. By the time I came back to finish it, I had forgotten most of what had me flummoxed. Luckily my solving software stopped the timer when I moved away, and my 64% complete grid was there waiting for me to finish.
I took a quick screenshot so you can see that to which I returned–it’s pasted beneath the completed grid. From this partially completed grid it’s easy to see the answers that came to me quickly. The first long entry to give me some meaningful traction was SIRIUS XM, Howard [Stern’s home]. I have satellite radio in my car, so this was a gimme for me (now that I think of it, “gimme for me” is redundant–a gimme for someone else would be a gim-else, not a gim-me). I got lucky taking a chance with SEMINAR as the [Advanced course] and MAV, short for a Dallas Maverick, as the Houston [Rocket rival, briefly]. Those Downs, combined with ANGORA CAT, the [Companion for Bond villain Blofeld], helped the southeast corner fall in short order.
Speaking of the southeast corner, let’s pause for a moment to give props to the clue for DOMO, [Major finish?]. Experienced solvers almost instinctively expect the answer to be ETTE, so the unexpected answer here really makes the clue shine. Just as a fresh clue improves stale fill, a fresh answer improves a stale clue.
Okay, back to our review. It’s kind of fun to see the mistakes I would later have to correct, like having EWW instead of ICK for [“Gross!”], TOTS instead of SIBS for the [Backseat sharers, often], and figuring that the answer to [Really clean] would somehow end in UP (nope–it was just SCRUB). My favorite error, though, was ANTER as [One taking pot shots?]. We always see “pot”-related references in clues for ANTE, ANTES, and ANTE UP, so I figured this could be a great clue for a fugly entry like ANTER. Tsk tsk! I should have known that Doug wouldn’t tolerate such dreck in his grids. Turned out that the answer, TOKER, was a reference to a different kind of pot. Still a great clue, but the answer is much better than my first guess.
Those consecutive errors in the northwest made things tough, but I’d like to think that’s a tricky corner even without my errors. CIO-CIO SAN doesn’t come immediately to my mind, at least, so I needed all the crossings to get the [“Madame Butterfly” heroine]. And neither MORAVIA, the [Czech region that borders Slovakia], nor ISAIAH, the [Source of “they shall beat their swords into plowshares”] is especially familiar to this heathen. I did like the clues for CORKBOARD ([Tacky wall hanging?]) and CARRIES ([Stocks]), however.
The northeast also had a couple of entries that gave me trouble. I’m not sure how [Gets ready to run] is a perfect clue for REDACTS. To my ear, to redact something is to remove identifying information so as to make it suitable to publication. Yes, something published can be “run” on the presses, but redaction is not required for every publication. So that clue seemed off to me. But my dictionary indicates that “redact” does not necessarily involve removal of identifying information; it can refer simply to editing before publication. In that sense, then, I suppose the clue is legit. The other one that plagued me is BERTRAM, the [“All’s Well That Ends Well” count]. Given it was one of the last answers to fall, I suppose all did not end well for me.
Some clues and answers of note:
- I’m not hip, and I don’t play one on television. So I haven’t the foggiest what CDR, the [Modern mixtape medium, for short], stands for. The internets suggest “crude death rate,” “clinical data repository,” and “carbon dioxide removal,” among other things–and I’m guessing none of those is right. To me, a mixtape CD would be pretty darn modern. I like how the tennagers in the wonderful film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, make mixtapes for each other using, you know, cassette tapes. When I saw that, the already-endearing characters became ten times more adorable.
- A ROAD ATLAS is indeed a [GPS forerunner]. Once upon a time (say, ten years ago), every well-equipped car had a road atlas in the passenger seat (they couldn’t fit in the glove compartment). I wonder how much GPS has hurt Rand McNally’s revenues in the last few years.
- Am I crazy or is [Having no fear of commitment?] a great clue for SANE? I also loved [Decent] for CLAD. Trust me, that’s the only way I look decent.
- [White-collar workers?] is a pretty easy clue for PRIESTS, but I liked it a lot.
- [Malibu reservoir] sure had me fooled for a long time. But when you think of the Chevy Malibu, suddenly GAS TANK becomes an easy answer.
- Stress the second syllable in [Confines] and you’re sure that the four-letter answer has to end with -S. But stress the first syllable just for fun and you realize the answer can be AREA, the correct choice for this grid.
Favorite entry = PHONE TAG, and it even sports my second favorite clue, [String of misses?]. Favorite clue = [Hangout for Leonardo and friends]. At first I thought I needed a five-letter Italian city, like maybe SIENA. But I was delighted to see it was SEWER, for the Leonardo in the clue is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, not the Renaissance master. That was a fun revelation.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Fin Fun” — pannonica’s write-up
Quick write-up, as I have obligations all day. Hook lands a barrel’s worth of fish-stocked puns—all appearing as celebrity names—in this offering.
- 18a. [Fishy TV judge] SALMON COWELL (Simon).
- 22a. [Fishy explorer?] SHARK COUSTEAU (Jacques).
- 62a. [Fishy author?] BREAM STOKER (Bram).
- 69a. [Fishy talk-show host?] MORAY POVICH (Maury).
- 113a. [Fishy ballplayer?] HALIBUT PUJOLS (Albert). Thank goodness the surnames are unchanged, because I would have had no idea who this person is supposed to be.
- 117a. [Fishy actress?] SKATE WINSLET (Kate).
- 15d. [Fishy singer?] TUNA TURNER (Tina).
- 37d. [Fishy actor?] FLUKE WILSON (Luke).
- 69d. [Fishy actress?] MANTA BYNES (Amanda).
Yup, puns in overdrive. What helps make it more palatable is that the mechanics of the theme are strongly constrained. Hallmarks of Hook’s style are present: fully stacked pairs of themers (18a/27a; 113a/117a), down and across theme answers intersecting, often multiple times.
Notable lowlights that stuck in my craw while solving, and were still there after the puzzle was reeled in: 14d [Annoying sort] IRKER, 119a [Grump] SOUR ONE; not because they’re negative and related, but because they feel arbitrary and not-in-the-language. 118a [Crunch maker] NESTLÉ’S; the company name is Nestlé and that’s also what it says on the wrapper of the cited candy bar. Some unknowns: 6d SCORIA [Slag], 57a KTLA [California station since 1947].
Possibly favorite clue: 47a [Ancients, for instance] ANAGRAM. Also, 84a [Prohias’s adversaries] SPIES; “‘Spy vs. Spy,’ –••• –•–– •––• •–• ––– •••• •• •– •••”
And now it’s time to make like the one that got away. CIAO! (108d).
Amy Johnson’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Child’s Play”
I feel like I’ve seen this sort of theme before, maybe in a daily puzzle. No matter; it works. The name of the game is phrases that end with words that double as kids’ toys:
- 22a. [Obstacles], STUMBLING BLOCKS.
- 32a. [Wild pair, sometimes], ONE-EYED JACKS.
- 50a. [“The Phantom of the Opera” setting], MASQUERADE BALL.
- 65a. [Morsel mentioned in ’80s Australian tourism ads], SHRIMP ON THE BARBIE. Why would anyone ever say to “put another shrimp on the barbie”? Just one shrimp? Not a whole batch of shrimp? Are Australian prawns gigantic?
- 85a. [Abstained, in a way], WENT ON THE WAGON. The “went” feels off to me.
- 97a. [Take the gold], COME OUT ON TOP.
- 114a. [Snap], LOSE YOUR MARBLES.
Don’t ask me why, but I filled in TAROT for 103d. [Certain follower’s reading]. Turned out to be TWEET.
Highlights in the fill: PEACE SIGN, MT FUJI, B MOVIES, AS WE SPEAK.
Toughest crossing, I bet: 46a. [Aquarium fish], OPAH, meets 48d. [__ marsala], ALLA, at the first A.
On the whole, the fill tends to be fairly ordinary. 3.5 stars.