Jonathan Gersch’s New York Times crossword
Do you enjoy word searches? Do you enjoy word searches in which the same word is hidden 14 times? Are you bad at finding diagonal answers in word searches? Then you’re in luck! Today’s NYT crossword is perfect for you. The “theme answers” really are just random longish words and phrases that contain TAN backwards, forwards, or both. 61d/69a is TAN / LINES, or [Beach markings … 14 of which are hidden vertically and horizontally elsewhere in this puzzle]. I’ve circled them for you, so if you were still planning to work your word search, I’ve spoiled the fun.
The “theme answers” are pretty dull as long fill goes. INSTANTANEOUSLY and UNATTESTED combine multiple word affixes and are less lively than multi-word phrases or titles.
The places where the TAN “LINES” appear in the grid bear no resemblance to actual tan lines, which follow clothing lines and are not limited to straight up-and-down and side-to-side line segments.
Favorite clue: 44d. [Toys known as Action Men in the U.K.], G.I. JOES. Did not know that.
I do love 53d. [Negro leagues star Buck ___] O’NEIL, who was one of the most memorable figures in Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary. But with all the answers that contain TAN or NAT locking down big chunks of the grid, the fill suffers. For example, ADD-ONS right above partial AND ON. Latin legalese FACTA (25d. [Statements in a legal case]—previous appearance in the NYT over 19 years ago). Woeful SURAL, 35a. [Relating to the calf]. Whoa! I’ve been a medical editor for over 20 years and I’ve never encountered that word. What’s more, Will Shortz’s notes on the puzzle at Xword Info say “At 35A, the constructor had SERAL (“Of ecological stages”). I thought SURAL was better, but probably not by much.” Interestingly, a search of the Cruciverb database shows two NYT appearances of SERAL in the ’90s (with similar clues) and two Newsday appearances, whereas SURAL comes up blank.
I guess most of the fill is rather routine crossword fodder, your ARAL and NES and ANI, but SURAL just brought me to a screeching halt and it’s the screeching halts that stick with you more than routine fill. The “aha” moment in this puzzle was lacking for me. Really, all the “fun” of the theme lies in either enjoying the hunt for TANs or finding their mere existence to be entertaining. I was kinda bored, truth be told. 2.75 stars.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Turn It Down”
Phrases that start with an O are negated by turning that first letter into a NO:
- 17a. [Military haircut that doesn’t leave a mark on the scalp?], NO-SCAR BUZZ. Oscar buzz.
- 30a. [Mocking nickname for Dr. J, in reference to his mediocre jump shot?], NO-RANGE JULIUS. Orange Julius.
- 46a. [Transport area with a zero-tolerance policy for bunnies?], NO-HARE AIRPORT.
- 59a. [Frat where you can only write with chalk or coal?], NO-PEN HOUSE.
You see how consistent those are? The O is part of a word but gets broken off when it joins the NO each time.
Two answers I did not know (and they cross!):
- 4d. [Asian telecom giant], DOCOMO.
- 23a. [Parthenon architectural feature (and an anagram of “Poet? Me?”)], METOPE.
- Plus GURU, [Half of Gang Starr], is unknown to me (but a familiar enough word).
- 68a. [Noted gun owner of cartoons], FUDD. Why is he not the NRA’s mascot? Him or Yosemite Sam.
- 2d. [Prepare, as briefs?], IRON. What? You don’t iron your undies? I like this because of that one Ren & Stimpy episode where cranky Ren had a happy helmet strapped to his head, and he was deranged. He actually wanted to do nice things for his cat buddy. “Must … iron … Stimpy’s … shorts!” he shrieked, ironing Stimpy’s tighty whities.
- 11d. [One for whom many angles may be right?], RELATIVIST.
- 30d. [Country that recently “built 500 objects contributable to raising the level of modernization,” per its website], NORTH KOREA. Hey, did you hear about the UN hearings on North Korean prison camps? Dreadful.
Took me a while to remember that it was BRAINERD that was the main 37d. [“Fargo” setting], outside of Minneapolis. Apparently there is going to be a Fargo TV series starring Billy Bob Thornton.
3.5 stars from me. I liked the oddball nature of the theme.
Paul Hunsberger’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Lovely clue at the beginning of the puzzle: [Facetious sequence?] for AEIOU. It turns out that’s part of the theme. Its symmetric partner, SEVEN, explains that all the long answers have a string of SEVEN consecutive letters without AEIOU. I remember vividly a NY Sun puzzle with this same theme (most themes have been done at some point if you look hard enough, this is not a slight on Mr. Hunsberger’s puzzle) because it blew my mind: here it is! Scott Atkinson’s Sun puzzle is slightly different, his sequences also exclude Y, but I also hadn’t heard of most of the theme answers in that puzzle! Mr. Hunsberger’s answers were all colourful and familiar (to me):
- 18a, [“The Meaning of Life” comedy group], MONTYPYTHON
- 32a, [Menace that isn’t very menacing], EMPTYTHREAT
- 40a, [Eric Carmen power ballad covered by Celine Dion], ALLBYMYSELF. Sorry Jeffrey, I’m not linking to it…
- 56a, [Title magical caretaker in a 2005 film], NANNYMCPHEE. Haven’t seen the film, but I picked up the gist of it by cultural osmosis.
Something that may be less obvious is that long sequences without vowels make filling a grid very difficult indeed: crosswords rely on patterns of vowels and consonants to facilitate crossing words. So if the non-theme fill felt a bit understated, with fewer phrases in the mix, that’s why. We do have fun longer words like FRANGIPANI, BUOYANT, ACOLYTE, PEDESTAL, IMPASSE, BEEFY, SHEILA and BAYONET. TUGOWAR is a nice phrase, although we get a (fairly common) variant spelling. Not much in the “untoward fill” column: ISHOW is an awkward partial. I appreciate that! By all means try and get some dazzle in your grid, but first do no harm.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Inner Piece” – Dave Sullivan’s review
I’m glad constructor (and co-Lollapuzz director) Patrick Blindauer visits this blog from time to time, as I may need his help to explain the theme and particularly the title he chose. Here’s my attempt: six two-word theme phrase in which the final three-letter word is used “inside” a five-letter adjective ending in Y for the first word. Yikes, reading that back, even I don’t follow it!
- [Weak mischief-maker?] clues WIMPY IMP
- [Donkey with a smart mouth?] was SASSY ASS – I see a Mr. Ed sequel in the works.
- [Big-boned newt?] is HEFTY EFT – hard for me to picture this, do newts have any bones whatsoever? I suppose they must.
- [Snake with a sore throat?] clues RASPY ASP
- [Nervous sports official?] is JUMPY UMP
- And finally, what perhaps is the ookiest of the bunch, [Atmosphere at a pet salon] clues HAIRY AIR – this is just gross.
The meta-solver in me wants to use those beginning letters to spell something. Let’s see we have W-S-H-R-J-H. I got nuttin’. Anyway, as typical with PB2, we have high theme density, without much in the way of icky fill. Standouts are RUBY DEE, the House actor Hugh LAURIE and a fun alphabetical crossing of B TEAMS and TYPE A. I am also curious about the clue for BESPOKE, which was [Custom-made]. I think of it in the past participle sense if something is “bespoken,” it’s been set aside and isn’t available for others. Can you say “bespoke clothing”?