Thursday night is NBC’s two-hour finale of Million Second Quiz. Tune in to see if Team Fiend’s Andy Kravis wins the $2 million big prize or must be content with over $300,000 in winnings. (Slight chance that he will actually lose his seat to a challenger and go home empty-handed, but he is a really strong trivia player so I don’t predict that.)
Michael Blake’s New York Times crossword
I was disappointed by this theme until I realized that it wasn’t made-up phrases starting with C and ending with Y but rather, familiar phrases with the C-and-Y coating:
- 17a. [Ability to survive freezing temperatures?], COLD MASTERY. An old master is more or less a Renaissance painter.
- 24a. [Selected a certain fabric softener?], CHOSE DOWNY. Hose down (unless it uses the lotion). Public service announcement: Fabric softener is a tool of the devil, people. Bad for the environment, possibly bad for human health.
- 35a. [Sprite who helps you find a shopping vehicle?], CART FAIRY. I’d like the cart fairy to push the cart, put things in the cart, empty the cart onto the checkout conveyor, and schlep the bags to the car. Let’s make this happen.
- 50a. [Super-choosy about timepieces?], CLOCK-PICKY. Hmm. Is “lock pick” a thing? Yes, it is.
- 58a. [Like M&M’s … or four words to describe 17-, 24-, 35- and 50-Across?], C.AND.Y COATED.
The corner 7s and their crossings are reasonable. Eight remarks:
- 38a. [One shouldn’t have a big head], BEER. I poured Diet Coke into a Guinness tulip glass and it didn’t form a big head of fizz. Is the shape of the glass magical?
- 55a. [___ Pince, librarian at Hogwarts], IRMA. Didn’t know that one. Irma P. Hall is my favorite IRMA.
- 57a. [Anesthesia option, for short], EPI. Short for epidural, I assume, but it’s not a shortening I’m familiar with despite having had an epidural. More often, I hear “epi” as short for epinephrine.
- 64a. [FedEx form], AIR BILL. Yep.
- 4d. [“___ Nut Gone Flake,” celebrated 1968 Small Faces album], OGDEN’S. Whoa. Entirely unfamiliar to me. And you?
- 9d. [Modified, as software for a different platform], PORTED. As in “ported to the Mac OS.” Not sure I’ve seen this usage in a crossword before, but it is certainly quite familiar.
- 11d. [“Here, you needn’t do that”], ALLOW ME. Cute answer.
- 44d. [Entice with music], TWEEDLE. Haven’t seen this word and usage before. Here’s what a dictionary/thesaurus page says.
Gareth Bain’s LA Times puzzle — Matt’s review
Matt Gaffney here filling in for Gareth, who wrote today’s LAT, where -ARK becomes -ORK:
- 18-a [Governor’s pet projects?] = STATE PORK (from “state park”)
- 29-a [Utensil that gives you ideas?] = CREATIVE SPORK (from “creative spark”)
- 43-a [Bully’s secret shame?] = FEAR OF THE DORK (from “fear of the dark”)
- 56-a [Say “Come in, Orson!” e.g.?] = QUOTE MORK (from “quote mark”)
“Fear of the dork” is my favorite from this set. Slight ding for the “quote mark” base phrase since it’s outGoogled tenfold by “quotation mark.” Maybe “quote mark” is more common in Gareth’s native South Africa? Could be.
Tricky solve for me; had ???KET for the clue [Hoops score] and confidently entered the incorrect BUCKET. Other wrong turns: had ERODE in there for [Take out] but it turned out to be ERASE; in the same area, had DOUBTS for [Causes to quail] instead of the correct DAUNTS. I’d heard of “quail” used as a verb but couldn’t recall what it meant.
Pet peeve: what’s with all the “one (who)…” clues you see in crosswords these days? I think it’s something Will Shortz started, but you see it everywhere now. In this puzzle we have [One who’s always on the go?] for NOMAD, [One on a pedestal] for IDOL, and [Like one who forgot the Dramamine] for SEASICK (plus [Find one’s voice] for PIPE UP). Crossword editors: perhaps one could temper one’s usage of this stilted construction!
Favorite fill: NO-RISK, COGNAC, RIFLEMEN, GO APE, NYPD, PIPE UP and SEASICK.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Detective Work” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Four theme entries that end with something a detective might do:
- A [Showstopper] is a HARD ACT TO FOLLOW – for some reason, this entry reminds me of the old Mae West line, a a hard man is good to find.
- [It’s a long story] clues SHAGGY DOG – I enjoyed this idiomatic use of the phrase.
- [Lid application] was EYE SHADOW – to “shadow” someone is to follow them, particularly in a sleuthing sense, which makes this another great entry.
- [Hiking path] clues WILDERNESS TRAIL
Good stuff here, tight theme and execution. Other nice stuff were the long crossers, The Beach Boys’ BARBARA ANN and BRIDESMAID. My nit with this puzzle though was the obscure (at least to me) short names–Benjamin ORR of The Cars (where’s Bobby when you need him?), Jazz trombonist Kid ORY (“Hick’s tail?”), Sir KAY of the Round Table (maybe “Silent knight character?”), and SIG Hansen of “Deadliest Catch” (I got nothing here). One of these kind of entries is my limit in a daily puzzle.
Aimee Lucido’s American Values Club crossword, “Final Projections”
Ben sent this one out as a 1 on a 5-point difficulty scale, but 4:11 is Wed/Thurs NYT zone for me so I would call it at least a 2. The theme is … baseball throws? I think. I’m not sure.
- 17a. [Graph of a normal distribution], BELL CURVE. Curveball.
- 29a. [With gloves off], BARE-KNUCKLE. Knuckleball.
- 42a. [Item that causes toons to hop around (P.S.: Maybe don’t Google it, it’s kind of gross)], JUMPING BEAN. Beanball? Dictionary says yes, that’s a pitch at the batter’s head. Not sure why “toons” is in the clue. Cartoon characters swallow jumping beans or something?
- 57a. [Retro, and a hint to 17-, 29-, and 42-Across], THROWBACK. The back of each phrase is a kind of baseball throw.
Five Eleven things:
- 20a. [“Pinky promise!”], “I SWEAR.” Fun answer.
- 32a. [Played tonsil hockey, say], WENT AT IT. Did you know “went at it” applied to sucking face as well full-out mutual groping?
- 36a. [Cherries ___] JUBILEE. Sigh. I miss fresh cherries. They went out of season abruptly a couple weeks ago and I wasn’t ready for it. My 2 lb-a-week habit came to an end.
- 64a. [Former Red Sox shortstop whose first name is his father’s name backwards]. NOMAR Garciaparra. Wasn’t he a Cub for a while, too?
- 3d. [Purple drank-drinking rapper], LIL WAYNE. I once edited a medical review article about drugs including purple drank. All the other substances had solid references in the bibliography, but purple drank’s citation was Wikipedia. Had to chase down Wiki’s newspaper source instead.
- 12d. [Where one might pee on a nice-smelling cake], URINAL. Matt G was just complaining about “one” clues. Given that “one” is really not gender-neutral here, I would agree that “a guy” works better.
- 27d. [Cross the t’s and dot the i’s, in slang], ICE IT. New to me.
- 28d. [Abbreviation before an annoying chain message from your grandmother], FWD. My mom is a grandma, but we taught her from the start of emailing that one should delete the FWD list of addresses. The other day, she forwarded something to me strictly to mock the huge list of FWD addresses her friend had left in place.
- 42d. [Subject of a Maroon 5 simile], JAGGER. The hit song is “Moves Like Jagger.”
- 49d. [“One sec, gotta pee”], BRB. Deb Amlen can confirm that I use “brbhtp” for this purpose.
- 51d. [Those back in town, per Thin Lizzy], BOYS. ’70s song.
Lots of fun stuff in this one, and while the basebally theme didn’t resonate with me, the theme answers themselves are all zippy. Four stars.
Brendan Quigley’s Thursday website puzzle, “Say When” — Matt’s review
What will it be in this Thursday’s BEQ — Sex, Drugs or Rock ‘n’ Roll? Answer: sex, the world’s most awkward subject.
And not your standard missionary, within-the-confines-of-the-marriage-bed variety, either! No ma’am. Brendan uses the base phrase SAFE WORD, defined at 9-a as [pre-agreed cry to stop the action in the bedroom when things get a little too crazy]. The WORD half of that is in the SW corner, clued as [___ that can follow 9-Across in both entries in 19-, 28-, 45-, and 55-Across]. Complicated, as sex sometimes is. Let’s see what’s at those four entries:
19-a [Maid’s profession] = HOUSEKEEPING. Amusing mistake I made here: I had HOUSECLEANING, which doesn’t fit but I figured there was some rebus action happening. There’s an old piece of wordplay that asks: what’s the only common word that fits the letter pattern ***CD***? That would be ANECDOTE, and when I saw that pattern at 5-d I knew I needed only a quick glance at the clue there to show me HOUSECLEANING was right. That clue was [Storyteller’s dream] so in ANECDOTE went with confidence. Oops! It was BOOK DEAL. Quite a coincidence there.
28-a [In computer science, a characterization of every possible solution to a problem] = SEARCH SPACE. If you say so.
45-a [“Red light” area in Amsterdam, say] = SEX DISTRICT. I bet the SAFE WORDs are unpronounceable there; Dutch is a rough language.
55-a [Coastal force] = HARBOR GUARDS. Doesn’t Google real well, but at least it’s inferrable. When I was in Toronto in 1992 I saw a sign that said something like TORONTO HARBOUR DEFENCE CENTRE. Three of the four words were spelled in Canadian, and the fourth was a Canadian city. I felt like I was in a foreign country.
So the eight words in those themers can each follow SAFE, making them “safe words”: safe house, safekeeping, safe search (on Google, e.g.), safe space, safe sex, safe district (so no jerrymandering required to thwart the will of the people — convenient!), safe harbor, safeguards.
Cool idea, dinged a wee bit since two of the four theme entries don’t quite roll off the tongue. But it’s a pretty restricted set so we’ll give the theme a grade of B.
Let’s observe some BEQ fill magic: ZIDANE, SO THAT, ON DUTY, TYBALT, the aforementioned BOOK DEAL, and we’ll finish last with the NICE GUYS, who finish last anyway so they don’t mind. Symmetric and echoic OILY/LILY is cool, too.
Matt Skoczen’s Fireball crossword, “Say ‘Aah'”
The theme is not astonishingly ground-breaking or anything, but I just plain loved this puzzle. It’s my favorite crossword all week. (Score one for indie crossword venues, yet again. Have you noticed how long it’s been since an NYT puzzle garnered a 4-star average here? I think it’s 3 1/2 weeks now.) Interesting fill, fun clues, a few genuine smiles while solving? It’s a winner. I give it 4.5 to 4.75 stars—I reserve 5 stars for a puzzle that is innovative and/or memorable, whereas this is merely excellent.
Matt, I’d love to hear why you opted for Fireball rather than submitting this winner to the NYT.
The theme entries play on homophones with a double-A in them:
- 17a. [Tale about making flatbread?], NAAN FICTION. (Nonfiction.)
- 35a. [Piccolo player painters?], CAAN ARTISTS. (Con artists.) Ha! James Caan played Brian Piccolo in 1971’s classic tearjerker TV movie, Brian’s Song. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, actually, but it has been super-familiar pop culture since I was a little kid. For the longest time I thought this answer would have FLUTISTS in it somehow, and when the penny dropped, it was a fine solving moment. Kudos to Matt and/or Peter for coming up with this potential Clue of the Year.
- 56a. [News reports about Swedish imports?], SAAB STORIES. (Sob stories.)
Perfect little theme, leaving ample room for delicious, Gordon-grade fill free of junk or obscurities.
My only quibble here is that SBARRO ([Rival of California Pizza Kitchen]) and California Pizza Kitchen occupy entirely different zones of the restaurant industry. One’s a mall/storefront joint with slices of pizza and counter service, while the other is a sit-down restaurant with fancypants pizza options and a liquor menu.
- 32a. [Year book writer of note?], ORWELL. The “year book” in question, of course, is Nineteen Eighty-Four. Another potential Clue of the Year.
- 46a. [One who might help you get very high?], SHERPA. Anyone else read the recent New Yorker article about the Western climbers and a conflict with Nepali Sherpas?
- 51a. [Jodie Foster’s real first name], ALICIA. Trivia! Trivia that I didn’t know.
- 60a. [Cream-of-the-crop Cremona craftsman], AMATI. Crapload of crazy (cr)alliteration.
- 11d. [Sinbad and others], STANDUPS. I love the comedian/actor Sinbad, but I was quite certain this clue was about Sinbad the Sailor.
- 29d. [Little Dipper School attendee], ELROY Jetson. Didn’t know it, but with a few crossings it became inevitable.
- 41d. [Low bow], SALAAM. Love this word for some reason. Not a thematic play on “salom,” which isn’t a thing.
Okay, Matt. Get to work on more great crosswords.