Ian Livengood and the JASA crossword class’s New York Times crossword
I generally love Ian’s puzzles and I do really like this one, the first themeless (if I remember right) to emerge from the J.A.S.A. crossword class at a senior center. But! It just doesn’t seem right to have the same constructor two Fridays in a row. Heck, it sometimes throws me off to see the same byline twice in a month in a single publication. Just me?
A tad heavy on the proper nouns here—I counted 16, which means the folks who are vexed by being quizzed on names may be vexed. Me, I like the names.
- 30a. [Caustic soda, chemically], NaOH. Caustic soda, the dictionary tells me, is another name for sodium hydroxide, or lye. The “caustic soda” label is new to me.
- 40a. [Home of Sky Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere], AUCKLAND. I didn’t know New Zealand was home to any distinctively tall structures.
- 44a. [Island where Artemis was born], DELOS. You know how many Greek islands there are to choose from? A lot.
- 3d. [Port on Lake Ontario], OSWEGO. Population 17,351!
- 8d. [“Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat” duo], CALVIN AND HOBBES. Dammit, I should have gotten this one. I was distracted by Ian’s youth and thinking that this was a song title in the clue, and that we needed a musical duo. Whoops.
- 50d. [“Roasted in ___ and fire”: Hamlet], WRATH. Didn’t recognize the quote. Mmm, wrath. Nothing like wrathfully roasted root vegetables, am I right?
- 34a. [So-called “potted physician”], ALOE VERA. Not a stale clue! Thank you.
- 65a. [Like Albert Einstein, ethnically], ASHKENAZI. I recently read an interesting article about Ashkenazic surnames. If you dig onomastics (the study of names), etymology, genealogy, and/or Yiddish/Hebrew/Judaism, check this out.
- 14d. [Who’s who in publishing?], MASTHEAD.
- 48d. [What stress may be good for], METER.
- 52d. [Guy with a cooking show], FIERI, as in Guy Fieri, as in the guy I said the Italian IERI (“yesterday”) made me think of yesterday. (You’re welcome!) Loathsome toad. Who wears their sunglasses on the back of their neck? Really, now.
- 59d. [What means the most at the end?], EST.
- 60d. [Beginnings of life], OVA. Two thoughtful clues in a row for throwaway 3-letter answers.
Tons of zippy fill in this grid. GOOD CATCH, INSTAGRAM, and NEWS REELS in one stack; ONE IN TEN, RED SCARE, and MASTHEAD in another; then OBAMACARE, VETO POWER, and ASHKENAZI; and the terrific DADS-TO-BE and JUICE BOX with perfectly fine ACT ALONE. Plus the crossing 15s in the middle! And other fresh bits like GIN UP and AUCKLAND. I’m also partial to [Newsman Ray] SUAREZ, who used to be a local news reporter in Chicago and has since gone national/global; talented guy.
It also bears noting that the worst fill here isn’t terrible—just a few little bits like TAI, TAE, and DIT (maybe also OSWEGO). You might think that stacks of longer fill would have junky short stuff crossing it, but the J.A.S.A class was in excellent hands with Ian.
Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Squeakers” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Three idioms that indicate one “squeaked by” something and a revealer to tie them up in a bow:
- [Barely avoided pitfalls] war NARROW ESCAPES. I thought avoided was a verb in the clue, but I’m thinking now it’s an adjective.
- [Brushes with danger, say] clued NEAR MISSES. I wonder if dangerous brushes can be used as SETAE to render them harmless?
- [Almost disastrous incidents] were CLOSE CALLS. I wonder if there’s a theme seed there with this phrased clued as [“Honey, that actress from that Fatal Attraction movie is on the phone again!”]?
- [What those who have lived through … have done] was DODGED A BULLET. “Living through” the other things reminds me of pretty much any old Batman episode.
I enjoyed this one; I prefer fun phrases like this over something more humdrum, or worse, tortured by adding or removing letters any day of the week. I, and a good friend to remain nameless for now (unless it’s accepted, and then we’ll reveal the constructor’s good taste in working with me) just submitted a puzzle with BOCCE in it, and I did wonder if it should be spelled as BOCCI instead, as it is in this puzzle. But here the clue has the dreaded var. appendage, so I think we went with the better spelling. That crossed [Pump part] or INSTEP, and I’m curious if this is a bicycle pump or a lady’s shoe? I have no idea what they call the part of the bicycle pump you stand on when you’re working the plunger.
The opposing CHOPS DOWN and CROSSES UP are both good, as well as the paired OOHED and AAHED, both clued as [Expressed wonderment]. My FAVE goes to [Behind, slangily] which was PATOOT. Do animals other than horses sport one?
Judith Seretto’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “You Again?” — pannonica’s write-up
Once you’ve been solving crosswords for a while you may notice the trope of constructors appending the prefix re- to any number of words to create suitable fill of varying degrees of dubiousness. In this puzzle, the surnames of various folks have been adjusted in a similar way. The results are safely on the non-controversial end of the spectrum.
- 23a. [Longtime Pennsylvania senator who holds others in high regard?] ARLEN RESPECTER.
- 38a. [Songwriter who does newspaper work on the side?] COLE REPORTER.
- 46a. [Three Stooges member who adds polish to things?] LARRY REFINE.
- 62a. [American poet who converts old films to digital formats?] EDGAR LEE REMASTERS.
- 82a. [Media mogul who makes a comeback?] TED RETURNER.
- 88a. [Country singer who likes to relax?] PATSY RECLINE.
- 107a. [Ma Kettle portrayer who likes to hang around?] MARJORIE REMAIN.
Alright as themes go, but REFINE, RECLINE, and REMAIN suffer through lack activation; they just sit there as infinitives, as opposed the -ER of three others which indicate a profession or action, and to the -S of the last, which has an indicative mood. So, three of the seven clunk rather than sing—ouch.
The rest of the grid is studded with some sparkly longish answers, including GEMSTONE, TRAPEZES, ABSCISSAS, FAR NORTH, and ARC LAMP.
- Misfill at 40d [Codeine, for one]. Had OPIOID but it’s actually a true OPIATE.
- Favorite clues: 74a [Runner’s cousin] AREA RUG is runner-up to 38d [Something wicked] CANDLE.
Sorry, nothing more to say. Solved this late last night and it’s pretty much a fog. Thinking it’s kind of a middling offering, especially when nearly half of the theme answers fail to regale.
Mike Peluso’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth
Mike Peluso (whose name it feels we haven’t seen a lot of lately!) gives us some puns based on the names of foreign (i.e. not U.S.) car manufacturers today. I sort of had the feeling it was going that way from the get-go, but it still took a long time to fully piece together an answer and confirm my suspicion. I noted, and appreciated, the consistency of numerical car models used in the clues.
It’s a blurred line as to how far you’re allowed to stray from the original pronunciation and still have a valid pun. Today features one change in consonant, one heterograph (different spelling, same pronunciation, assuming the first word is meant to be “‘owdy” and not “howdy”), one change in vowel sound (from “o” of “hot” to “ar” of “hart”), and one more difficult to define change. I think that last one is a bridge to far. Putting aside whether the original phrase itself, “niece and nephew” is valid as an answer, the change is also quite drastic. Maybe it’s just sour grapes because I had to stare at it post-solve to determine the origin of the phrase.
The thematic run-down:
- [Facilities on a 911?], PORSCHEPOTTY. My favourite answer! The base phrase of port-a-potty is also good.
- [Oater pal in an A3?], AUDIPARDNER.
- [Tales of a 9-3?], SAABSTORIES. Sob stories
- [Relative in a 370Z?], NISSANNEPHEW.
This is a long-time sticking point, but I don’t understand the poor quality of the fill in the top-right and bottom-left. In places where the grid is under some strain, the calibre of answer found there is more than fine, but why do 4×3 squares need an answer like NIK (top-right) or LST and ARTE (bottom-left). These puzzles are seem by several sets of eyes, surely someone thought “this can be improved easily”?
Other points of discussion:
- 15a, [Former Dodger first baseman James], LONEY. Not a baseball name I know, but then that goes for most of them.
- 17a, [Windows Alternative], UNIX – in that they are both OS’s, but really their usages are quite disparate if you ask me.
- 23a, [Florida University named for a pope], STLEO. I enjoyed that clueing angle even though I had know idea. Apparently it’s a university outside Tampa, Florida.
- 41a, Boston drummer Jeff et al., NEALS. As a plural surname, it’s a weak answer, but at least it anchors the centre of the grid, where two themers pass!
- 50a, [Corolla competitors], ALTIMAS. Slightly distracting considering the theme, but a very minor cavil.
- 70a, [Whooping __], CRANE. A very endangered species always needs some awareness!
- 71a, [Heist haul, to a hood,] TENG At first, I thought I had an error – that’s TEN G if you were bemused too!
- 4d, [“Complete series” DVD purchase, say], BOXSET. Very nice answer.
- 10d, [ID holders], LANYARDS. I like the modern clueing angle used here. Lanyards are those ropy things that go around the neck with keys, ID’s, USB’s etc. hanging from them
- 21d, [ESPN baseball analyst Alex], CORA. Guess what? I didn’t know him either. I do CORA Dithers from “Dagwood”, but then I probably the last person to still have grown up reading the funnies’ pages.
- 25d, Shakespearean servant, WENCH. This is a surprisingly sexist term to find in a crossword.
- Lastly, we finish with a cute, curious mini-theme 54d [Oil source], SHALE; 55d, [Odessa native], TEXAN, and 56d, [Any of several fictional multimillionaires], EWING.
I’d like to like it more, but a number of things grated today. 2.5 Stars.