Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “A Cut Above The Rest”
So, I had the gimmicky answers filled in just fine, but then the Down theme answers clued [See above] left me mystified. I couldn’t see how they paired with the entries or clues directly above them, and I couldn’t see how they paired with the big letters up top. Plus, three big letters vs. six Down theme answers? Does not compute. The Sunday NYT advice for the thematically confused, of course, is “read the title again.” “A Cut Above The Rest”? Oh! The three big letters spell [Cut], which is the intended clue for these six (from left to right):
- 71d. [See above], PLAYED HOOKY.
- 36d. [See above], PIECE OF THE ACTION.
- 80d. [See above], ALBUM TRACK.
- 81d. [See above], EDITED DOWN.
- 42d. [See above], KICKED OFF THE TEAM.
- 75d. [See above], SNIDE REMARK.
These theme answers are all more in-the-language than the random verb+noun of something like USED SCISSORS. So they’re well chosen.
The [Cut] comes from the gimmick of homophones that sound like plurals of letter names. A big letter C is drawn in the grid with three connected CCCCC’s:
- 1a. [Oceans], CCCCC (seas).
- 1d. [Grab], CCCCC (seize).
- 31a. [Espies], CCCCC (sees).
The U has three sets of UUUUU’s:
- 8d. [Farm females], UUUUU (ewes).
- 33a. [Profit from], UUUUU (use).
- 11d. [Trees with poisonous seeds], UUUUU (yews). I was afeared this was some grievously obscure crosswordese starting with UU when the crossings were filling in.
The T is made of two TTTTT’s:
- 14a. [Razz], TTTTT (tease).
- 16d. [Aids for long drives], TTTTT (tees, in golf, or teas, if you’re a drowsy driver and prefer tea to coffee or cola).
This theme is clever and inventive, and it’s well executed from both a visual and a semantic standpoint.
Highlights in the fill:
- 28a. [Game twist], HOUSE RULE. Like playing chess and saying that the horsey can gallop diagonally if it feels like it (this is a fictional house rule).
- 43a. [More rakish], JAUNTIER. The -ER doesn’t add much, except more jauntiness. I love the word jaunty. (Etymologically related to genteel; who knew?)
- 57a. [“Six Million Dollar Man” feature], BIONIC LEG. Yes, it’s a tad arbitrary, and BIONIC EYE would have felt more lexically chunky, but as a child of the ’70s I will always have a fondness for Jaime Sommers and Steve Austin.
There are a fair number of 6s and 7s in the grid to spice things up, and the trusty Scowl-o-Meter remained tranquil while I solved. 4.66 stars from me. Well played, Jeff Chen.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Holiday Trio”
Merl combines two theme types here: The hidden-word theme and the “Merl tells a story through the theme clues and answers” narrative theme. It’s “Bah, humbug!” season so we get words with BAH, HUM, or BUG in them fleshing out the tale:
- 20a. “For Christmas my uncle gave me a palm-tree coffee mug from BAHRAIN …” 21a. “A HUMIDOR full of cigars …” 23a. “A genuine Civil War BUGLE …” 38a. “A trip to the BAHAMAS …” 42a. “RHUMBA lessons …” 46a. “A DVD of the 1992 Rodney Dangerfield film LADYBUGS …”
- 61a. [My uncle’s name], SCROOGE.
- 64a. [Theme, Part 1], BAH.
- 65a. [Theme, Part 2], HUM.
- 66a. [Theme, Part 3], BUG.
- 70a. [How we describe my uncle ever since his, um, visitations], SWEETIE. Ebenezer Scrooge became a real softie after the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future spurred him to stop being a selfish yob. A rather arbitrary addition to the theme, but Merl needed a 7 to balance out SCROOGE in the grid.
- 87a. “A ride on the AUTOBAHN …” 90a. “… in my uncle’s HUMMER …” 93a. “… and a ride back in my uncle’s BUGATTI …” 112a. “When I got home a new VW BUG was in the driveway …” 113a. “… and a box set of Robert MITCHUM DVDs was under the tree.” 115a. “My uncle sure knows how to make an average guy feel like a POOHBAH!”
It’s only the last set that take the BUG/HUM/BAH order—the first three sets were in BAH/HUM/BUG order.
Highlights in the fill include JOHN PAUL II, MAMMA MIA, RHUBARB, JIFFY, and fancy vocabulary word OROTUND (88d. [Rich-voiced]). Wondering why OROTUND ends with rotund? They are related: the Latin ore rotundo means “with rounded mouth,” and that’s where the word comes from. Not that rounding your mouth gives you an imposing voice.
Four stars. I had fun with the theme—figured it out pretty quickly and used the BAH, HUM, and BUG bits to help me fill in the blanks in the story.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Interesting themeless grid design featuring 6 15-letter interlocking entries:
- [Commonly accepted] was UNCONTROVERSIAL – I wanted “incontrovertible” at first, but that had an extra letter.
- [Popular high school subject] clued DRIVER EDUCATION – I wanted “driver’s education” at first, but that had an extra letter. (See a recurring theme, here?)
- [She played Vita in “Hannah Montana: The Movie”] clued VANESSA WILLIAMS – I think this came out before Miley Cyrus’s twerking days.
- [Classroom apprentices] were STUDENT TEACHERS – a bit “a lot on one’s plate” as 15’s go.
- [1973 Jacqueline Susann best-selling novel] clued ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH – I wanted Valley of the Dolls at first, but it had… you get the idea.
- [“Don’t run for shelter”] clued THIS IS ONLY A TEST – funny thing with this entry was I had MAI for [Half a cocktail] instead of TAI, so I at first was wondering if this was THIS IS ONLY A MIST, which might also work for the clue, since there would be no need of shelter if it’s not really raining.
A rather uneven solving experience for me, the bottom half felt very easy, but the top quite difficult. ROTAS for [Papal tribunals] is obscure (to me, anyway), as I could only think of SYNODS, but that had one extra … oh, you know the score. AUREATE as [Brilliantly splendid] is a beautiful word as well, and literally means “golden,” I believe. I was expecting something more specific than FAR WEST for [Pacific coast area] and couldn’t easily come up with [R&B singer with the 2004 #1 song “Yeah!”] for USHER without some reference to his recent The Voice appearance. Speaking of which, who do like of the final three this season? My money’s on Tessanne Chin, who is inspiring her entire nation of Jamaica. Back to the puzzle, let me leave you with the bit of trivia that EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, but you knew that already, didn’t you gentle solver?
Jeff Chen’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “And 100 More!”
The theme is simply “insert the letter C,” but there are two things that elevate it: One is the tie-in to the crossword puzzle’s 100th anniversary (coming up on December 21), wishing for another century of crosswording, and the other the consistency of having the C pronounced as its own syllable, rather than blending (as in heap –> CHEAP).
- 22a. [Big tips on cruises?], LINER C-NOTES. I think this is the only one where the C actually stands for 100 (which C is the Roman numeral for). Fitting to place this one first or last as a tie to the title.
- 32a. [Beginning piano student’s first scale?], C MAJOR DISASTER.
- 49a. [Shockproof battery?], PADDED C CELL.
- 63a. [Channel for channel surfers?], SHORT ATTENTION C-SPAN. They should have that in addition to regular C-SPAN.
- 79a. [Food problem at the front?], C-RATIONS OUT. Nice switch from a verb phrase to using RATIONS as a noun.
- 93a. [Tech news site’s nefarious plan?], NOTHING BUT CNET. If you don’t know what CNET is, you should poke around cnet.com the next time you’re looking to buy something techy. Editor reviews supplemented by user reviews. Love the zippiness of “nothing but net” as our base phrase here.
- 107a. [Painfully out-of-tune note?], RAZOR C-SHARP. I’d call this one the weakest of the set, but it isn’t terrible.
Only 93a made me smile, but a great many Sunday puzzles don’t make me smile at all despite having over 100 clues, so that moves the puzzle into the win column. As does the preponderance of zippy long fill: BURNT SIENNA Crayola color, IOWA STATE wrestling, PAT MORITA (he was clued as Arnold from Happy Days, so I was confused by 117a. [Arnold’s art]. POESY and running a diner? Arnold was a real Renaissance man), TCHOTCHKE, TELEGENIC, VINEYARDS, and the kitty-poster motto HANG IN THERE.
Gotta run. 4.25 stars. A good day for Jeff Chen!
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 193”- Sam Donaldson’s review
I smiled when I saw Doug’s byline, and that was for two reasons. First, like many of you, I enjoy Doug’s puzzles: I’m assured of a smooth, hip grid with some fun clues. Second, I thought that I might atone for my poor solving time two weeks ago, as I tend to be on Doug’s wavelength. Alas, while the puzzle was good, I was not. Strange stuff (to me) seemingly lurked in every nook and cranny in this puzzle, and it felt like the knotty clues were even tougher than usual.
I spent a long time looking for a foothold. Finally I found [Sitcom teacher at James Buchanan High], which could only be the wonderful Gabe KOTTER of Welcome Back, Kotter fame. Immediately I found the clue for the crossing K–I always like to build off rare letters, figuring they’re usually better hints than common stuff like vowels and the Wheel of Fortune bonus round gimmes. Here, though, it was no hope as I had no idea about the [Sauk leader who was against the Black Hawk War]. That would be KEOKUK. From what I can tell in my couple minutes of online research, I wonder how many folks outside of Iowa knew that one. (He has a county and a city in Iowa named after him.) The three K’s in his name suggest we might not see him in many more crossword grids in the future–that many K’s don’t make for easy crossings.
Same goes for LJUBLJANA, the [Slovenes’ capital]. Unless it’s part of a “double-LJ” themed crossword, you won’t see this one much either (though it seems Doug is fond of the place–he used it in a 2010 NYT freestyle). As you can see from the screenshot of the completed grid, that one was the last to fall–simply because it required every darn crossing to get it right.
Other items of note that vexed and/or pleased me:
- [Segments of some marathons] is a great clue for RERUNS. Yep, I first wanted something like MILES, MARKERS, UPHILL RUNS, or anything else related to marathon running.
- [Lengthy, for short: Abbr.] is a downright nasty clue (that in retrospect I love). The answer is OPP, short for “opposite,” as “lengthy” is the opposite of “short.” This is why I will never be good at cryptics.
- On the other hand, one can immediately spot that [Place to crawl away from the elements] has some wordplay trickery in it. No one says “crawl away from the elements,” so the clue practically begs the solver to parse the clue slowly. The answer is INDOOR POOL, a “place to crawl” (swimming stroke) that’s away from the elements, or indoors. Didn’t trick me for long, but I still admire the trick.
- Those who participate in Learned League can look at my player profile to verify this: I suck at geography. (If you’re not in Learned League: (1) why not? It’s great!; (2) I’m batting below the Mendoza line in three categories–art, classical music, and geography. Surprisingly, all of my education was at public schools.) So yeah, I slowed down at FT. LEE New Jersey, EAST TIMOR, GUYANA, and the aforementioned double-LJ place. I only got AMARILLO, the [Route 66 city], because there just aren’t that many cities with an M and an O in those places (though I did find myself quickly humming the Nat King Cole tune in thinking of potential cities–I know that tune, you see, because it’s not yet considered “classical music”).
- I got the TATTOO part of JAILHOUSE TATTOO easily enough, and I knew from the clue, [Pen ink], that the first part had something to do with prison. But I couldn’t get it to fall for the longest time.
- [Otto’s predecessor] had me thinking of people, not numbers. Sigh, it was SETTE.
- I tried HOLD and TUNE before landing TINT as the [Old TV knob]. I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t be throwing out those AARP flyers I’m getting in the mail.
- I sure wanted LENNY BRUCE as the [Comedian on the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover]. That just made perfect sense to me. And according to this page, it’s even true! But in this particular grid, on this particular day, the answer is STAN LAUREL. He’s hardly (Hardy?) a “comedian,” though–more like “comic actor.”
- [Spots for hot dates?] is a fun clue for OASES. My first thought was ACNE, but that tells you how long it has been since I’ve had a date.
- Besides Mr. KOTTER, the only gimme for me was ROOMIE, the answer to [Will, to Grace]. Maybe Mom was right–perhaps I do watch a little too much TV. Wait, wait–I wrote that too soon: another gimme was ANNE Hathaway–[She won an Oscar for playing Fantine]. So I should amend that: I watch too much TV and too much Anne Hathaway. I plead guilty, your honor.
- I think [One-day “Jeopardy!” contestant, e.g.] is a clever clue for LOSER. Hey, at least you passed the audition test–something I haven’t been able to do despite several attempts.
- I feel like buying flowers for ALGERNON, the [Dandy in “The Importance of Being Earnest”].
- Anyone else try OZMA as the answer to [Prince ___ of Pingaree (Baum character)]? No? Maybe I should quit while I’m behind.
Favorite entry = MR. ROBOTO, the [Hit from the 1983 album “Kilroy Was Here”]. Didn’t know the answer to the clue, but I love the song. And here‘s one of my favorite songs that happens to name-check Mr. Roboto. Favorite clue = Tie between [Curling venue] for a SALON (yes, I tried ARENA first–guess I’m subconsciously amped for the Winter Olympics) and [Meet people] for TIMERS (the folks with stopwatches at a track meet).
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Color Combinations” — pannonica’s write-up
This is one of those “Before and After” type themes, with the central 77a [Pivot around] SWIVEL point being a color NAME (52a).
- 28a. [Golfing army commando?] PUTTING GREEN BERET.
- 41a. [Norseman who was misleading?] ERIC THE RED HERRING. Four words.
- 66a. [Unexpected firings?] SHOCKING PINK SLIP.
- 88a. [Mercurial U.S. currency?] QUICKSILVER DOLLAR. Two words, color embedded in one.
- 104a. [Packing a soulful punch?] JAMES BROWN-BAGGING. Papa’s got a brand new bag?
Not finding the noted variations in configuration to be distracting or a detriment, but am surprised that there are only five of them in a 21×21 grid, even if they are longish (17 letters apiece).
What I did find distracting was the opening salvo of 1a [Skater in 1-Down and 107-Down], 1d [See 1-Across] and presumably the same clue wherever 107-down is. Those answers in the top left, at the start, are BRUIN and BLACK. Having uncharacteristically looked at the title beforehand, I found myself thinking how the two most common types of bear in North America are BLACK bears and brown bears (“Bruin” may be etymologically related to brown, but in any event there’s a homophonic proximity). Turns out that the antipodean 107d is GOLD and we’re talking about the local (to the puzzle) NHL team, the Boston BRUINs. Was playing to the crowd worth all this distraction and awkwardness? I certainly don’t think so.
- Color bits: 104d [Kind of green] JADE. 105d [No longer green?] RIPE. 6a [Play-of-color gem] OPAL (right on the heels of the BLACK/BRUIN (GOLD) complex). 83d [Bluish hues] AQUAS. 65d [Emerald isle] EIRE. 30d [Dark style] not NOIR but GOTH, and then 60a [Shadowy] DARK—really?
- 5d [1954 jazz festival host] NEWPORT, Rhode Island—but why 1954? Though that was the first one, there were plenty of other landmark years there. Nice touch however with the abutting 29d [Jazz home since 1979] UTAH (the NBA team relo’d from NOLA (74d)).
- 25a [Rasta pronoun] I AND I. Hey, if you’re going to go with obscure, I think this is one of those rare instances where a cross-reference clue can be of value: 59d [“Tempest” singer] DYLAN. But you know what? One of the songs on his 1983 album Infidels is … “I and I”—how about that?
- 12d [Case of comedones] ACNE. Comedones are blackheads, which comes for some reason from the Latin, meaning glutton, from comedere to eat — more at comestible. Why would they do that? Bonus: singular is “comedo.”
- 11d [Don’t blink] STARE; 63d [Rude observers] OGLERS. Perhaps it has something to do with the UNIBROW at 89d.
- How do we feel about 44d E-BOOK crossing 56a IPODS?
- Favorite clue: 14d [Bridge between Bushes] CLINTON.
It occurs to me that I might be perceived as hypocritical, decrying the overuse of cross-references while frequently pointing out clues and answers that can be seem to have a relationship. But I don’t think so; these so-called cluechos add richness to the solving experience without being intrusive—they’re there for those who notice and appreciate them, undetected by those who don’t. And besides, I don’t slavishly point out each and every one. That way lies madness and/or tedium. So, for instance, I (had) decided not to mention AÏDA and OPERA (85a & 116a), ATP and NOVAK Djokovic (55a & 68d), and so on.
Okay puzzle, but felt a little sloppy.