Dick Shlakman and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Toil and Trouble”
We’ve got a literary theme this week: MACBETH is spelled out in the circled squares. The shape formed by the circled letters is probably supposed to represent a sword or knife, but I’m seeing a cross, a kite, a lollipop, a scepter… we’re not quite in “Wow, look what Liz Gorski drew in the puzzle!” territory. There is 100d: BLOOD dripping from the circled letters. Five long Down answers come from Macbeth:
- 37d. [Tautological statement of finality], WHAT’S DONE IS DONE.
- 21d. [Compassion, figuratively], MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS.
- 58d. [A single stroke], ONE FELL SWOOP.
- 60d. [What the lucky person leads], A CHARMED LIFE.
- 23d. [Start of many jokes], “KNOCK, KNOCK. WHO’S THERE?”
- 42d. [Superstitious thespian’s name for a work of Shakespeare … from which 21-, 23-, 37-, 58- and 60-Down all come], THE SCOTTISH PLAY.
I might actually have liked the puzzle better with more Shakespeare and no is-that-a-sword-or-what. My Macbeth must be rusty because when I think about blood in that play, by far the most memorable reference is Lady Macbeth’s damned blood spots on her hands and not a dripping blade of some sort. Just me?
There’s some colorful long fill in this one: DURAN DURAN, THE ROBOT, LITERATI, TOODLE-OO, HEAVE-HO, POLO SHIRT, assorted swaths of 6s and 7s. But the overall gestalt vibe I got was of little answers that were lifeless. The northwest corner kicks off with donkey-driving terminology (1a. [Turns left], HAWS) that crosses three proper names (HOREB, ALEXA, SNERD) and sits atop a plural last name (OLINS). The long answer that anchors this section is EXERCISERS, which is a tad awkward and roll-your-ownish to me. And four Spanish words! BANDOLERO crosses SECO, SEIS, and ENERO, which may border on unfair. And then, just when I’d managed to put that whole corner out of my mind, I was reminded of 1a again when I hit 81d. [Cry before “haw”], YEE.
Also in the downer category, we have UH-OH partially duping UH-HUH and OHO and the partial OH I, further muddied by OOH and plural YOS. (TOODLE-OO and HEAVE-HO repeat some of the same syllables.) Plus ESE, KIEL, ALIA and UNUM, OARED, TIA, OENO- … I guess that’s not too many but the interjections were distracting me.
Matt Gaffney has been guest-blogging over at Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle all week. One comment he’s made—and more than once, I think—is that the puzzles are largely filled with clues that could have been written a decade or more ago. I skimmed the puzzle just now and I only noted one that’s current: 13d. [Iraqi P.M. ___ al-Maliki], NOURI. (NOURI could have been clued before 2006 as actor Michael of Flashdance, but he’s mostly out of the limelight now. The P.M. is a better clue.) ALEXA Vega was in Spy Kids in 2001, more than a decade ago. This one might also qualify as contemporary: 115a. [They may be sprayed on], TANS. But your SOT and SNERD and IRE and NEE and OTTO Preminger and everything else, these are all evergreen answers with evergreen clues. When the puzzle appears in the coming decades in book collections, there will be little to distinguish it from a crossword that’s 20 years older.
3.5 stars from me.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “The Dark Side”
What a neat theme! Merl includes 18 words and phrases that include shadow, and he dislodges each shadow into a black square in the appropriate spot. The central answer, is SHADOW-BOXES, 76a. [Trains, in a way, and the key to 18 of this puzzle’s black squares. (Ones that begin with the keyword are asterisked. The others are for you to discover.)]. And, because Merl is a delight, the puzzle notepad entry doesn’t explain the theme; instead, he tells us, “The groundhog made me do it.” (Damn groundhog. Pretty certain we’re getting six more weeks of winter here in Chiberia.)
So let’s see if I found them all:
- 29a. [Detective work, at times *], shadowING SUSPECTS.
- 37a. [Popular soft-shoe song], ME AND MY Shadow.
- 43a. [Lid makeup], EYE shadow.
- 60a. [Block the sun, basically], CAST A shadow.
- 63a. [Sheen-Sutherland thriller of 1997 *], Shadow CONSPIRACY.
- 71a. [1993 Winger-Hopkins film *], ShadowLANDS.
- 87a. [“Designer stubble”], FIVE O’CLOCK shadow.
- 90a, 92a. [With 92 Across, old radio catchphrase], THE Shadow KNOWS.
- 107a, 110. [With 110 Across, a hint of things to come], FOREshadowING.
- 115a. [1991 Woody Allen film *], ShadowS AND FOG.
- 123a. [1963 hour-long “Twilight Zone” episode with a Bible-inspired title], VALLEY OF THE Shadow.
- 2d. [1971 Cat Stevens hit], MOONshadow. Obligatory video time! Sing along, everyone.
- 5d. [Dwarf by comparison], OVERshadow.
- 7d. [Rolls-Royce model], SILVER Shadow.
- 15d. [You can see it during a lunar eclipse] EARTH’S shadow.
- 18d. [Secret governing groups *], shadow CABINETS.
- 93d. [1943 film written by Thornton Wilder *], Shadow OF A DOUBT.
- 114d. [Cutout figure whose image is projected on a wall *], shadow PUPPET.
Yay! I found all 18. There are plenty of theme answers that wander around outside of strict thematic symmetry, but I am willing to bend on that for a gimmick that’s fun, that engages my mind in a puzzle-within-a-puzzle, and that contains a truly flagrant number of theme answers.
The surrounding fill was mostly inoffensive. Even STENO, SSTS, and SERE go down easy when you’re so busy working a meaty theme.
Trickiest clue, for me: 95d. [TV spy or movie pilot], SOLO. Han Solo is the movie pilot, from Star Wars. The TV spy is from before my time, I think. I learned it once from another crossword but have forgotten. Ah, yes: Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Most difficult vocabulary word: 44d. [Of frogs and toads], ANURAN. I tried AMURAN, blending anuran with the medicine Imuran.
Clue that duped me, with a crossing I’d never heard of: 66a. [Tall, cold one?], ALP. I had ALE and never went back to fix the mystery at 67d. [Proctor of Firesign Theatre]. PHIL, obviously, is the only name that fits *HIL, but proctor is also a common noun and I know pretty much nothing about Firesign Theatre. Should’ve seen that EHIL and worked harder.
4.5 stars from me. I enjoyed the thematic workout.
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Sunday Challenge” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Instead of a typical free-style low-word-count puzzle, we have an anagram theme; four entries where the letters of GROUNDHOG DAY have been rearranged:
- [Hoary harrier?] was GRAY HOUND DOG – I had trouble parsing this one, as a “greyhound dog” is indeed something, but here, “gray” is the “hoary” part of the entry and “hound dog” is the harrier. Harriers are a type of dog bred to hunt rabbits (hare), and also a type of cross-country running if I recall correctly.
- The alliterative cluing continues with [Pasty Puff?], which clued DOUGHY DRAGON – hard not to want to listen to this oldie again.
- [Plug from a dirty punk?] clued GRUNGY HOOD AD – I wonder if we’ll be seeing any “hood ads” later today during the Super Bowl?
- [Ravenous eightsome?] was a HUNGRY OGDOAD – now, if you’ve never heard of the word OGDOAD, you’re not alone. The word comes from the Greek for “eightfold.”
- And a revealer, if you didn’t suss out what the entries above had in common: [Nevada city, the one place “Phil the Weatherman,” at the beginning of “Groundhog Day,” says he would like to be if he could choose; have you made the arrangements?] was ELKO – well, if you haven’t made those arrangements, it might now be a bit too late.
Funny story with this one–I actually solved it last Sunday, thinking it was the puzzle for last week (we get the puzzles a few weeks early here at the Fiend, but that doesn’t at all mean I solve and/or blog them any earlier than the very last moment!). So, appropriately enough, I’m seeing this puzzle for a second time today! When I realized my mistake, I took the liberty to discuss first an entry and then the theme in general with the puzzle’s constructor, Bob Klahn. My first email related to the duplication of the word “job” in the clues [Job’s job, once] for CEO and [Like some jobs] for ODD, which is a nice juxtaposed pairing; however, it troubled me that MCJOB was an entry elsewhere in the grid.
Bob graciously replied that that type of duplication is not one that troubles him as an editor and not something he tries to avoid. Subsequent emails moved onto the theme itself, which I, like a similar earlier puzzle of his with anagrams of POPULATION, feel the end result is not satisfying due to what I call “tortured” phrases, or ones that seem forced and unnatural. Since Bob replied many of his solvers disagree, please speak up in the comments today and let us know if you enjoyed these anagrams.
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 200”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Has it been 200 Post Puzzlers already? I still remember when they debuted (some 46 months ago, by my crude count), and I’ve been a fan from the start. One of the original rotation members, Doug Peterson, brings us today’s puzzle, and it’s another fine example of just how good the Post Puzzler is.
It’s a 68/33 freestyle that gives some love to two 14-letter entries. Fourteens get short shrift in freestyle puzzles, as they usually force additional black squares into the grid, and Conventional Wisdom says that freestyle grids should have lots of open white patches and less of the black stuff. A bit racist, if you ask me. But you didn’t.
The star 14s here are SANDWICH ARTIST, the [Subway worker] (as in Subway sandwich shops), and KRAMER VS. KRAMER, the [1979 film co-starring the youngest-ever Oscar nominee]. Yeah, I was trying to fit PAPER MOON into all those squares. I think I was tricked into doing so, as Channing TATUM, the man who barely beat me for [People’s 2012 Sexiest Man Alive], crosses this entry. His name makes me think of Tatum O’Neal, and from there Paper Moon is on the mind. It was a deliberate trap, I tell you!
We have to talk about the wonderfully devilish consecutive clues at 14- and 15-Across, right? The first is [City east-southeast of 15-Across] and the second is [City west-northwest of 14-Across]. I know some solvers hate cross-referenced clues. (I like them, personally, but I don’t consider myself a good judge of mainstream tastes.) I can only imagine–in delight–how cross-reference haters recoiled at the circular cross-references! They tripped me up for a while, though, as I was wrongly sure 15-Across was DALLAS, based on the crossing D and L, of which I was rightly sure. Turned out to be DULUTH. So while I’m thinking of cities in Louisiana and Alabama that could fit at 14-Across, poor little DEARBORN just sat there undiscovered.
And speaking of Alabama, how about that potential Clue of the Year candidiate. I’m talking about [Mobile phone users, often] for ALABAMANS (the clue is a reference to the residents of Mobile, Alabama). Great clue, though it didn’t really fool me, as I remember a Fireball puzzle from Doug that used Mobile, Alabama, for the theme. Now every time I see Mobile, I think of that puzzle.
Other great entries here included IT CAN’T BE, BREWSKI, PT CRUISER, ATOMIZER, RAKISH, and CRISCO, the [Certain vegetable product]. I’m embarrassed to admit I struggled with Kris KRINGLE as the answer to [Pole star?], and for reasons unknown I had SLY FOXES as the answer to [Foxy one]. Yes, the clue refers to the singular, not the plural. And yes, the clue already has “fox” in it, so it wouldn’t be in the grid unless this was the USA Today crossword (oh snap!). So yeah, not my finest moment. Can’t say I was familiar with SLY BOOTS, the term that turned out to be the answer. Does one use that as a pick-up line? Hey, baby, you’re lookin’ like you got your sly boots on tonight.
Other items of note:
- [Griffin, for example] had me thinking of TALK SHOW HOST and GAME SHOW INVENTOR. But here it’s just a HYBRID. Speaking of Merv Griffin, here’s a little nugget of trivia for you: celebrated author J.K. Rowling first got the inspiration for the Harry Potter books while interning at Merv’s production company. Yep, the idea came to her while she was standing just outside his office, at Griffin’s door.
- I said this in the second bullet point of my last review, so I’ll say it again here: I like a little trivia in my puzzles. That’s why I liked [Allen who ran for president in 1940 as the Surprise Party candidate] as the clue for GRACIE. Say goodnight, Gracie.
- Anyone else try DOS as the [MS follower]? Took a while before I finally tumbled to NBC. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt in the fall.
Favorite entry = KAZOO, [Part of many a one-man band’s gear]. Favorite clue (besides the clue for ALABAMANS that I’ve already discussed) = [Selfie snappers, at times], not for TEENS but for IPADS.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “One Letter Off” — pannonica’s write-up
This one flummoxed me right off the bat. One-down [Church perch] was obviously PEW and one-across [Topiarists do it] unquestionably PRUNE, so when I saw 2-down [Mate of 29-Down] R–– it seemed nearly certain to be cruciverbal staples RAM and EWE without even looking at the cross-referenced clue. However, that set up the theme answer at 23a—whose clue [Seeker’s declaration?] seemed not to call for any tricky answer—to begin with the extremely ungainly WM–. So away went RAM until further notice.
Eventually the puzzle’s conceit evidenced itself: names and terms containing a singular letter, and that letter is replaced by its alphabetical neighbor: hence the title. More specifically, it’s one letter shy, as the substitute is in each instance the preceding entity. In a nice expansion, for half of the answers the letter is the English (that is, Roman) letter itself—not the phonetic spelling, for the other half it’s a Greek letter, as a name.
- 23a. [Seeker’s declaration?] W MARKS THE SPOT (X).
- 27a. [“Designing Women” costar?] GAMMA BURKE (Delta). Γ, Δ.
- 61a. [Erotic novel of 1954?] THE STORY OF N (O).
- 92a. [Contest garb?] WET S-SHIRTS (T-).
- 100a. [Chinese dish?] LAMBDA-SHU PORK (mu-). Λ, Μ.
- 31d. [Drugstore buy?] PREPARATION G (H).
- 33d. [Yann Martel movie?] LIFE OF OMICRON (PI). Ο, Π
- 41d. [“Chicago” Oscar winner?] EPSILON-JONES (Zeta-). Ε, Ζ.
Liked the theme, liked its execution. Speaking of execution, and referencing today’s New York Times puzzle, the symmetrical crossings of the center themer are 61d [Macbeths’s title] THANE and SLAIN.
- 6d [Opposing] seemed to be developing into something like AT WAR, but it wasn’t quite working and 35a is [One of the Four Horsemen] WAR. Turned out to be ATHWART, which makes for a nifty inclusion.
- Rarefied stuff: 13d [Ballet move that’s literally “fallen”] TOMBÉ. 50a [Foe of Pericles] CLEON (not to be confused with CREON from the Oedipus myth.
- Old-timey stuff: 76d [Buster Brown’s dog] TIGE, 81a [Safecracker] YEGG, 84a [Old name for hopscotch] POTSY.
- New-feeling (or at least colloquial) stuff: 50d [Use a pal’s futon] CRASH, 82a [Hood, south of the border] CHOLO, 72a [Out for a ride] TOOLING.
- 37d [Loony] BATS, 98d [Loony] NUTS; 91a [Over the bounding main] ASEA, 46d [Flying] ALOFT.
- 79a [Devil’s domain] TASMANIA. The generic name for the marsupial is Sarcophilus, meaning “flesh-lover”; they have exceptionally powerful, bone-crushing jaws, much like those of spotted hyenas. Sadly, the already limited population is currently suffering an epidemic of a transmissible cancer called facial tumor disease. Factette: An early name for Tasmania was Van Diemen’s Land, in honor of Anthony van Diemen. Don’t know what it means in Dutch, but it sounds like “demon.” Demon, devil, how about that?
- Kind of liked the look of ILL upon LII there in the middle right.
- These seem like weak fill: TWO MORE, VERY WET, PROD ON. (56d, 26a, 84d)
- Least favorite abbrevs.: HOR(izontal), SUBJ(unctive).
- Video links! 58a [Comedian whose trademark is an unstoppable leg] KLEIN. 58d [Singer Minogue] KYLIE; I recently shared on facebook this spiffy Michel Gondry video of her song “Come Into My World.” It’s fascinating, though the song itself isn’t really to my taste. Gondry’s a favorite.
Matt McKinley’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “VW Showroom”
The theme felt quite familiar to me, but a Cruciverb search only turned up two CrosSynergy daily puzzles—Randolph Ross, 5/12/10, VICHY WATER, VIETNAM WAR, VERA WANG, VERY WELL, VIRGIN WOOL, VANNA WHITE, and Rich Norris, same title as today’s puzzle with VINTAGE WINE, VICHY WATER, VALVE WRENCH, VERA WANG, VERY WELL, and VANNA WHITE. Today’s theme has the following names and phrases with V.W. initials:
- 23a. [Sparkling French refreshment], VICHY WATER. I know this one only from crosswords.
- 29a. [Pre-singing routine], VOCAL WARM-UP.
- 45a. [Lively European dance], VIENNESE WALTZ. Pretty.
- 72a. [Retiree’s pursuit, perhaps], VOLUNTEER WORK.
- 97a. [“A Room of One’s Own” author], VIRGINIA WOOLF. Nice addition to the VW ranks.
- 113a. [Cellar prize], VINTAGE WINE.
- 125a. [Woman of letters], VANNA WHITE.
- 38d. [Competes against], VIES WITH.
- 63d. [“Okay”], VERY WELL.
The top fill includes JOE COOL, HAS-BEEN, and THE VIPS.
The clues must have been pegged to the clear and unambiguous, because I flew through this puzzle much faster than I usually can. I know my crosswordese, so things like AH SO, LESE, HIES, and ELYS (20a. [Tarzan portrayer Ron et al.], ouch, plural crosswordese proper noun) did not slow me down. Two author monograms in a single puzzle: 70d. [Tarzan creator’s monogram], ERB, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and 106a. [Literary monogram], RLS, Robert Louis Stevenson. I could do without both; in general it’s a good idea to try to keep these familiar-mainly-in-crosswords monograms out of the grid. (JFK and MLK and FDR, on the other hand, are common outside of puzzles.) 10d: BECOMETH, or [Turneth into]? I’m also not a fan of old-timey Biblical verbeth action.
The theme works fine, but these initial themes don’t generally do much for me. There’s not much brain work involved in figuring out the theme or piecing together the theme entries. Mind you, some people are just looking for their Sunday crossword to pass the time, and this puzzle’s not going to leave many solvers frustrated by ungettable stuff. 3.25 stars.