David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword
The 13 (mostly) short theme answers begin with the letters from A through M, and their last letters work their way back from N to Z:
- 1a. [*Everything], A TO Z.
- 15a. [*Rap devotee, slangily], B-BOY.
- 18a. [*One who goes on and on], CHATTERBOX.
- 20a. [*”What should I ___?”], DO NOW. Somewhat awkward partial.
- 31a. [*Sarah Palin or Arnold Schwarzenegger, informally], EX-GOV. Cursory Googling suggests it’s more often a headline abbreviation than an “informal” shortening. Here’s a Wonkette headline that doesn’t include the period at the end of “ex-Gov.”
- 36a. [*Dish served with long-handled forks]. FONDU. What an ugly spelling. I prefer the mor respectabl fondue.
- 40a. [*Part of Manhattan’s Midtown West], GARMENT DISTRICT.
- 44a. [*Football snaps], HIKES.
- 47a. [*Less welcoming], ICIER.
- 60a. [*2002 Denzel Washington drama], JOHN Q.
- 64a. [*Wood cutter?], KARATE CHOP.
- 69a. [*2014 TV retiree], LENO.
- 73a. [*Standard deviation deviates from it], MEAN.
Interesting concept for a list of words. As the core of a crossword puzzle, I found it wanting, as the surrounding fill is larded with compromise. ORONO! ERI! ONERS! GEN’L! ENOTE! IRANI! X’D IN! IVOR! NO BET! ENORM! NISI! QUIN! Plus rather too many proper nouns: CODY ORONO HAKEEM LEAH ORK JOHNQ LENO OMNI ALEX ODIN KIRK SHEL LEONE ORR IVOR SHOLOM ROXIE UTNE HUME NANA QUIN ([Christie’s “The Mysterious Mr. ___”])? That’s more than 20, and a recipe for a lot of displeased solvers. Plenty of “Wait, how is that spelled?” names in the mix, too.
Given that the entertainment value of the theme lies solely in detecting the there-and-back-again alphabetical run—no wordplay to speak of, no humor—the fill needed to do the heavy lifting on the entertainment front. I feel it fell far short of the target, what with all the awkwardness and uncommon names and whatnot. And on a Tuesday, no less!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “We’ve Got Clout”
Again with a nutty only-by-Jones grid design—those mazelike stretches of black squares, stacked 9s crossing two theme entries apiece. And how often are the two middle theme answers connected by 5s that stretch between them?
The theme is “CL out”:
- 17a. [Where to hold your hands while guiding a horse?], REINING POSITION. From reclining position.
- 26a. [Acted like the “Supermassive Black Hole” band?], PULLED A MUSE. Pulled a muscle.
- 44a. [“I couldn’t be there–I had to sell my steam press” and others?], IRON AD ALIBI. Ironclad alibi.
- 57a. [Shaw or Lange, no faking?], THE GENUINE ARTIE. The genuine article. Ha! I like this one.
Highlights in the fill: PRO SHOP, SORE SPOTS and CRIME LABS (though these both would be better in the singular), “YOU BET I AM!”
- 18d. [Gallagher who didn’t smash melons], NOEL. Noel Gallagher from the band Oasis, as opposed to prop comic Gallagher.
- 42d. [Murphy has one], LAW.
Could do without LAW appearing across the puzzle from 3d with “Law & Order” in its clue, -OLA, [Volks ender] WAGEN, API-, and the clue for EEG, [Mental picture?]. “Picture” suggests that an EEG is an imaging study like an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan, but it’s a tracing of brain electrical signals. I’m tired of clues that conflate the EEG with a head scan. Broken record = me.
3.5 stars from me.
Updated Tuesday morning:
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Weather Balloons”—Janie’s review
Is everyone having a fun winter? Enough snow for ya? Enough slush? Enough SLEET [Wintry mix revealed in the circled letters (it’s this puzzle’s theme!)]? Think of those circles as the “weather balloons” of the title, and you see where LIZ (the non-Lemon variety) is going with this puzzle that highlights anagrams (makes a mix) of that wintry, bone-chilling combo of rain and snow. Br-r-r. Also br-r-rava as this conceit yields five lively themers in which each set of “weather balloons” bridges the phrase’s first and second words.
- 17A. FLEET STREET [London’s newspaper hub]. Wow. Less so now, but yes—since the early 16th century. Also home to Sweeney Todd (“the demon barber of…”).
- 27A. DOUBLE STEALS [Diamond “heists” executed by two base runners]. While I love my O’s, the biggest baseball fan I ain’t—but this particular winter I’m actually happy seeing reports from spring training and experiencing vicariously the warmth of the Florida sun. Aaaah.
- 38A. “LET’S EAT!” [“The lasagna’s ready!”]. Bring it on!
- 48A. TABLE SETTING [Dinner party arrangement]. With maybe that lasagna as the main course…
- 63A. ESTEE LAUDER [Cosmetics mogul who said “Beauty is an attitude”]. Also a source of bi-i-i-g bucks. As I learned in a puzzle clue last week, she was also “the only woman on Time magazine’s 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century.” One impressive dame!
Impressive fill? How about the way BUBBLE TEA and EGO-SURF and NUT-JOB PRESIDE over the lot. Love them all for being fresh and lively. Also love the way that [Layers of jumbo eggs] leads us to DINOSAURS. Full disclosure: I was actually thinking this was going to result in some bizarre breed of …HENS. Don’t ask. Then there’s the name that crosses three of the themers at dead center: LISZT. That’s not an easy area to fill (given the constraints of the theme fill, not particularly ADAPTable), so this is especially fine (and fortuitous) fill. And suspect this bit of whimsy was unplanned, but I also like the way SHIP [Icebreaker, for example] crosses ICE (here clued as [Freezer cubes] and not in conjunction with anything [else] meteorological).
I don’t adore [Mississippi’s official airline?] cluing DELTA, as it feels like it has to work too hard to make its point. Mississippi DELTA. I get it, but even though Delta is an airline, it’s not Mississippi’s “official” airline. That’s why the question mark is there, of course. The upside? The combo sent me to reading about Delta‘s history (it turns 90 this year)—including its actual Mississippi Delta tie-in. Check it out! The NUT-JOB clue (also question-marked) also felt somewhat strained to me [Kooky employee on a cashew farm?]. Seems to be equating the person with the location of the work. As I read it, anyway. Or is it that “on a cashew farm” gilds the lily (so to speak)?
Much happier-making: the mirrored, kinda euphonic AKIMBO and ANGORA; the “paesano” proximity of writer Gay TALESE to Puzo’s Luca BRASI. For anyone who needs a Godfather refresher, have at!
That’ll do it for me for this week. Keep warm y’alls—spring’s just a little less than a month away!
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Double-O 27” – Dave Sullivan’s review
So I’m guessing from the title that a “double-O” sequence appears 27 times in this puzzle, but I’m not counting to confirm my theory.
Though there are technically 20+ theme entries (perhaps 22 if the following have 2 double-O sequences?), here are the longest five:
- [Test site] clued SCHOOLROOM – I kept thinking of bombs instead of quizzes for some reason.
- [Flighty redhead with a distinct laugh] was not, as I first surmised, Lucille Ball, but WOODY WOODPECKER – for some reason, I recall this in black & white and had no idea what color his “hair” was.
- [Play some b-ball] was SHOOT HOOPS – great example of the theme here.
- [Bit of baby talk] was KOOCHIE KOO – this tune comes to mind.
- [Ivy League fight song] clued BOOLA BOOLA – Yale, specifically, as I recall.
Nice that the enumeration of double-O’s ended in a 7 to groove off the James Bond moniker. I wondered why one of my FAVE groups, Ten Thousand Maniacs, was clued as a TWO-HIT wonder, as I can name at least five songs in their Natalie Merchant days that I’m pretty sure were considered hits. You don’t see many entries of 8 letters with just one bona fide vowel (not including Y), but we have THIRTY B.C. here. Great clue for an old crossword standby, [One found in the woods] for OBOE.
Robert E. Lee Morris’s Los Angeles Times crossword
An old nursery rhyme serves as inspiration for today’s theme:
- 53a. [One of the things little boys are made of, and a hint to 20-, 31- and 41-Across], PUPPY DOG TAILS. The Mother Goose book I grew up with illustrated this verse with severed tails. Eww! The other three theme answers end with “tails” that are traditional (but probably well out of favor now) dog names.
- 20a. [Phrase on a treasure map], X MARKS THE SPOT.
- 31a. [Luxury SUV since 1970], RANGE ROVER.
- 41a. [Sophocles tragedy], OEDIPUS REX.
Simple, solid theme. With 46 theme squares, the grid isn’t overcrowded. There’s space for NORTH POLE and PILSNER and lots of ordinary fill. Now, ordinary fill is not the most thrilling thing in the world, but it’s a damn sight better than tortured, compromised fill. ETAS, OTT, SLOE, EEE, and ESTEE are about the worst this puzzle has to offer.
I’m always mystified when ACER is clued as something like 36a: [Hard-to-hit tennis server]. Nobody in tennis ever calls a great server an “acer,” do they? And the entry has a perfectly workable clue, as Acer is right behind Lenovo, HP, and Dell in worldwide sales of PCs.