Michael Ashley’s New York Times crossword, “Nascar Rocks!”
Oh, dear. That title! The title says, “Step away, Amy—this puzzle is not made for you.” Turns out you needn’t know anything at all about NASCAR—you just have to contend with puns on five pop song titles that have incorporated automotive terms:
- 27a. “Hey, what did you think when you missed that last pit stop?” [The Who, 1971], WON’T GET FUELED AGAIN. Fooled.
- 42a. “Did you do anything for luck before today’s race?” [Katy Perry, 2008], I KISSED A GRILLE. Girl.
- 65a. “How did that new car handle out there on the track?” [Maroon 5, 2011], MOVES LIKE JAGUAR. Jagger. This one doesn’t work so well because you’d say “a Jaguar.”
- 93a. “What did you try to do after the caution flag came out?” [The Doors, 1967], BRAKE ON THROUGH. Break.
- 109a. “Are you enjoying your time out on the Nascar circuit?” [Ricky Martin, 1999], LIVIN’ LA VEHICLE LOCA. Vida. This is a terrible pun.
Each song title includes a verb, but it’s the locus of punning in only two of the (only) five theme answers. Verb, car part, car brand, verb, generic word meaning “car”… these did not strike my funny bone.
With a rather slight theme, there is plenty of room for the fill to breathe. That latitude is used up for assorted long answers rather than chunky swaths of white space—ANIMAL HOUSE, CAST A SPELL, MINISTER TO, CITIZEN KANE, WAGNERIANS, and SCOUT MOTTO. However, there were also a number of shorter answers that triggered the old Scowl-o-Meter. To wit: ILONA, VERS, ENORM, ONAGER, plural LIMAS, ENOL, ONE G, HIT AT, DILATOR, EDA, OREL. 120a. [Someone a little short?] looks to be cluing DEBTOR, but no, it’s the roll-your-own NEEDER. XKE, LTDS, and T-TOP further automobilized the fill, but to no real advantage. (At least there was no REO, EDSEL, ALERO, OMNI, or CIERA today!)
Five more things:
- 34d. [Suffering a losing streak, in poker], ON TILT? Entirely unfamiliar to me.
- 66d. [Words of retreat?], OMS. At a meditation retreat.
- 41d. [“___ Delight,” pioneering song by the Sugarhill Gang], RAPPERS. Have a listen. Kick it old school.
- Cross-referenced math problem, and not with Roman numerals! 97d. [94-Down x 14] is SEVEN and 94d is ONE HALF.
- 104d. [Glam band with six #1 hits in Britain], SLADE. I was curious so I went to YouTube. Hey! Apparently for Slade, glam = nutty outfits with ungroomed head and facial hair.
Three stars from me.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Backup Men”
Vice presidents who have been presidents’ “backup men” have their names spelled backwards within unrelated words and phrases:
- 21a. [Gem with a distinctive sparkle], STAR RUBY. Burr.
- 22a. [Not from the same source], HETEROGENOUS. Gore.
- 36a. [Positively bonkers], AS MAD AS A HATTER. Adams, who went on to be president, like a few of the ones who follow.
- 48a. [Use as a crutch, perhaps], RELY TOO MUCH ON. Tyler. Phrase feels awkward.
- 66a. [Swift watercraft], HYDROFOIL. Ford.
- 84a. [“Relief is just a ___!”], PHONE CALL AWAY. Wallace, in a 13-letter partial phrase.
- 95a. [What a citizen of Canada was called before 1977], BRITISH SUBJECT. Bush. Really? That changed only in ’77? That explains all the queen faces on the money.
- 112a. [Spiritual writer-philosopher born in British India], KRISHNAMURTI. Truman. Raise your hand if you don’t know this writer-philosopher.
- 115a. [Unfit to ingest], INEDIBLE. Biden.
Fair enough. Not as humorous as many other Reagle themes are.
Six more things:
- 60a. [Noted student of actress Jean Arthur when Arthur was a teacher at Vassar], STREEP. I confess I don’t know who Jean Arthur is. I know somebody will chide me for that.
- 105a. [“A Dream Within a Dream” penner], POE. It’s a poem (a Poem), one I did not know. You can read it here.
- 6d. [Newspaper spelling guidelines], STYLES. Not wild about this pluralization here, but I guess if you have AP style and New York Times style and so on, you have multiple styles you might be expected to know if you’re a writer or editor. We can express our gratitude that it’s not clued as [Harry of One Direction], because I almost missed that in a trivia contest and was so pleased with myself for not knowing the name—and then it intruded into my mind and all I could see was Harry Styles. He should be a barber, not a pop idol.
- 74d. [Hit again, as the stage], REROB. Wait, what? As in robbing a stagecoach?? “RE-ROB”? Just … no.
- 97d. [Contract bridge tactic], CUE BID. Had no idea there were “cues” in any game outside of pool/billiards.
- 79d. [Nothing-fancy business outfit], PLAIN SUIT. Hmm. Most dictionaries, onelook.com tells me, don’t include this term. Those that do are referring to the non-trump suit in a card game.
3.33 stars from me.
Karen M. Tracey’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 233”–Sam Donaldson’s review
Well, that was educational.
There was so much–SO MUCH–I didn’t know here that twice I just paused the timer, put the puzzle away, stood up, walked around, and tried my best to clear my mind before having another go. Mini vacations like that aren’t entirely unusual during a strenuous solve, but two such breaks are proof positive that this week’s Post Puzzler nearly broke me.
Let’s get right to the laundry list of What the Stuff?!? entries in this 70/29 freestyle puzzle from Karen Tracey:
- POPINJAYS are [Fops]. Before this puzzle, I would have told you a popinjay was a breakfast pastry. So yeah, my connection with that word is tenuous at best. Great sounding word, though, and it sure looks pretty in the grid too.
- The [Rosewell rival] is LAVER. If you know your Australian tennis pros, you know that Ken Rosewell and Rod Laver were contemporary rivals. Rod Laver I know; Ken Rosewell not at all.
- There’s an [Irish novelist Cecelia] AHERN who happened to sit directly underneath LAVER. That made for a knotty corner. I know nothing of Ahern’s work, but Wikipedia tells me she “also created and produced the ABC comedy Samantha Who? starring Christina Applegate.” And we cruciverbalists have a soft spot for Ms. Applegate, an outed NYT solver.
- TETRYTOL is an [Old explosive]. The internet tells me it’s 70% tetryl and 30% TNT. The TNT I know knows drama, so it’s not like this is very helpful information for me.
- The [Historical heirs of France] are DAUPHINS. They now reside at Sea World and give four performances daily, much to the chagrin of animal rights activists.
VASLAV NIJINSKY is … well, the big reason I needed so much time to solve this puzzle. Wikipedia says he is “a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent, cited as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. He grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations.” Apparently he played a mean puppet, for [His tombstone in Montmarte Cemetery has a statue of him as the puppet Petrushka]. Boy that clue sure didn’t signal “ballet dancer” to me. I kept wanting MARCEL MARCEAU as the answer, but that was one letter short and all kinds of wrong with the crossings.
- I’m normally good at TV trivia, but darned if I could remember [TV actress Georgia] ENGEL, who played Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
- [Oswald, in “The Canterbury Tales”], was a REEVE. Either that or some guy named Oswald Reeve was an actor in the movie adaptation of The Canterbury Tales that I never saw.
- SENNA is a [Yellow-flowered medicinal plant]. Heck, you could have told me three more things about it and I still wouldn’t have had a clue. [Flower you haven’t heard of that sounds vaguely like one of the crossings] would have been just as good. (Weird that SENNA crossed SIENA, the [Tuscan tourist city] that was one of the few things here I actually knew.)
- VIS is [Strength, in Latin]. That is all. Oh, and ILS is [They, in French].
- [“Jason Lives,” in the “Friday the 13th” film series] clues PART VI. Didn’t know the exact episode number, but the crossings were gettable so this wasn’t so flummoxing.
- Okay, I know that ERNIE ELS, the pro golfer, is nicknamed [“The Big Easy”]. But of course that information never comes to mind since I’m convinced the answer is looking for some other nickname for New Orleans. NAWLINS didn’t work, nor any vowel-laden variation of just ORLEANS. And when I had that sequence of ???IEE?S I was sure there was an error. Ugh. By this point I think I was just psyched out.
- There’s a [Playboy Khan] with the given name ALY. Not ALI, of course. And naturally he had to cross TETRYTOL. Because he had to.
- FATHA was the [Nickname of an early jazz pianist], and not FATSO, as I figured.
- The PRION is a [Saw-billed petrel of southern seas]. If you say so. And [Segmented worms] are ANNELIDS. I think if I saw that answer in a grid I would wonder who Anne Lids was.
- SIMONES is clued as [Actress Signoret and cookbook author Beck], neither of which I know at all. [“Orange is the New Black” actress Natasha, and others] would have given it to me, but the actual clue guaranteed a slow solving time.
Yep, that’s a personal best for number of answers about which I had no clue. Here’s hoping I go many months before breaking the record.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen an entire row of three-letter entries that were all abbreviations. But that’s what you find here, in the center row no less! AST, TVA, SCI, and ENS, from left to right. Each individually is perfectly fine, and we all know three-letter abbreviations are often needed to make longer stick together. But that whole sequence does call unwanted attention to the grid’s glue.
Favorite entry = JOIE DE VIVRE, clued as [Delight in life]. Favorite clue = [It may result in making new contacts] for EYE TEST.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Beast Sellers” — pannonica’s write-up
Easy enough to intuit the theme from the title (which, yes, I remembered to glance at before solving today): book titles with zoömorphized puns.
- 22a. [Conrad’s take on “Tarzan”?] LORD CHIMP (Lord Jim).
- 24a. [Crustacean 77-down?] — 77d [Tale like Homer’s] EPIC — KRILLGAMESH. I guess The Epic of Gilgamesh can be referred to by simply the protagonist’s name, but it feels a bit off, and makes for some hoop-jumping cluing. Is it worth it?
- 34a. [Litterary classic?] CATS TWENTY-TWO (Catch-22).
<insert tired spelling-out-the-numeral gripe here>Some polydactyl cats have 22 toes, for what that’s worth.
- 52a. [Story of a freakish “bear”?] THE KOALA PURPLE (The Color Purple). Freakish in many ways.
- 74a. [Yarn about an evil deer?] HART OF DARKNESS (Heart of Darkness) Conrad again!
- 92a. [Renaissance fish story?] THE DA VINCI COD (The Da Vinci Code).
- 108a. [Monotreme myth?] PLATYPUS REX (Oedipus Rex). Possibly detailing the history of Obdurodon tharalkooschild, arising when that plucky duck Tharakloo was raped by the devious water-rat Bigoon. Hey, I’m just the messenger.
- 110a. [Rodent’s wintry narrative?] VOLE ON ICE (Soul on Ice).
- 15d/64d. [ … Whale of a tale?] THE HUMPBACK | OF NOTRE DAME.
The taxonomic tally: 9 critters total (counting CATS and KRILL singular), 1 invertebrate, 1 fish, 7 mammals (1 monotreme, 1 marsupial, 5 eutherians). Not the most biodiverse bunch I’ve seen, but passable. On the other hand, the puns are mostly chuckle-worthy.
- Boston! 32a [Street near Faneuil Hall] STATE; 83a [Sox homer champ Tony] ARMAS; 118a [Rivers who coached the Celts] DOC.
- Beer! 41d [Headed quaff] BEER; 7d [IPA ingredient] HOPS; 27a [Belgian style of brew] SAISON; 56a [Canadian band of suds] LABATT.
- Milk! 39a [Sucre alternative, maybe] LAIT; 61a [Milk in Xochimilco] LECHE. Joseph ALIOTO (10d)served as mayor of San Francisco from 1968–1976; his successor George Moscone was assassinated on 27 November 1978, along with city Supervisor Harvey MILK.
- 51d [Reed in a pit] OBOE, becauese LOU is only three letters. Too soon?
- (chow) 70d [Grub] CHOW; 96d [Tuscan ta-ta] CIAO.
- acting 49a [Script segment] SCENE; 54d [Theater crew] USHERS; 98d [Parts to play] ROLES; 106d [Plies a thespian’s trade] ACTS.
- Wee dupe: 3d [Oral wisdom] LORE, 65d [ __ hygiene] ORAL.
- Equinimity! 5d [Harness part] BRIDLE; 21d [One-horse vehicle] SHAY; 47d [Stable staple] OATS.
- 11d [Pooh’s creator] MILNE; 12d [Roo, to Pooh] PAL. Back to the themers, Pooh is kind of a freakish “bear”, and Roo is a marsupial, as is a KOALA.
- 73d [McIntosh kin] WINESAP, a variety of Stayman apple. Coming into season now.
- POOREST (62a) fill: plurals HAHAS, SASES; triple-a AAAH; partials AS YE, DO THE; old-timey niche actor Warner OLAND; abbrev. ADT; relatively uncommon (though correct) spelling of 93d [Pied Piper’s town, now] HAMELN.
Fine, fun entertainment.
C.C. Burnikel’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Taco Filling”
The theme answers contain a hidden TACO spanning words:
- 23a. [Nissan Bluebird competitor], TOYOTA CORONA. Not marketed in the US for over 30 years, so you can be excused for forgetting it or not knowing it. Not the juiciest launch for a theme. TOYOTA COROLLA would have been a lot better, opposite a suboptimally pluralized SANTA COSTUMES.
- 29a. [“That’s enough out of you!”], PUT A CORK IN IT. I do like this one.
- 45a. [Didn’t panic], KEPT A COOL HEAD. Solid.
- 66a. [February 1945 summit], YALTA CONFERENCE. Historic.
- 88a. [Strong morning drink], ROBUSTA COFFEE. I have never been a coffee drinker (do people say “Robusta coffee”?), but now my kid has begun drinking coffee. Eek!
- 108a. [Yakov Smirnoff catchphrase], “WHAT A COUNTRY!” Here are some examples of his “What a country!” jokes.
- 115a. [Christmas rental], SANTA COSTUME. Solid.
Unrelated phrases that share certain letters don’t always make for the zippiest themes, but the assortment of theme answers here is fairly lively (CORONA aside).
The Downs include plenty of longer answers that are terrific: PHONE CALLS, “HI-YO, SILVER,” NEW BALANCE shoes, “OH, COME ON!,” STOPGAP, DEAD SEA, PSYCHIC, SHAKE A LEG, STONEHENGE, APPLESAUCE, and NO-HIT GAMES. These lent a good bit of color to the whole enterprise. There are Sunday puzzles that feel like a slog because a dryish theme is combined with lifeless fill, but the long stuff here kept things lively.
Six more things:
- Most boring row: Row 17, with SALINA, Kansas, leading into LAITS, ETO, and TSGT.
- 1d. [Lineman?], ACTOR. The clue tricked me. I started with WIRER crossing WEEDS ([Gardener’s enemy]) instead of ACTOR and APHID.
- 57a. [Sour British brew] ALEGAR. Oh! You know what we call that stuff here, this fermented sour beer? Malt vinegar. ALEGAR is very rarely sighted in the US, and isn’t even common in crosswords.
- 70d. [Virologist who worked with Epstein], BARR. As in the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis.
- 11d. [Skype appointment], E-DATE. Furrowing my brow at that e-word.
- 43a. [Storied ball dropper], GALILEO. Ha! I first suspected the answer would be a name from sports, such as BUCKNER (though he didn’t drop the ball so much as fail to catch it).
Four stars from me.
Bruce Venzke’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good evening (almost night), everyone!
Finally getting a chance to get to this grid after a weekend of reporting on football in Central New York and New Jersey. So right now, I’m currently taking some EXTREME MEASURES to create some time after my reporting duties to talk about crosswords tonight (16A: [Radical steps]). At this moment, I’m currently typing this review on a somewhat crowded train heading back to New York from East Rutherford, N.J., and it’s leaving me BOXED IN, like most passengers on trains during rush hour in New York (13A: [Trapped]). Loved all of the fifteen-letter entries, even with the extra “extra” thrown in on EXTRA EXTRA EXTRA (2D: [Old newsstand cry]). Although almost midnight on the East, I totally wouldn’t mind having some THREE-MINUTE EGGS right about now (11D: [Timed breakfast orders]). I’ve never seen the Swiss city spelled BERNE, with the “e” at the end, as I’ve usually known the spelling of it to be Bern (40A: [Swiss capital]). By the time I’m done with this review, as well as by the time I’m finally home and dry, it will probably officially be MORN on the East Coast (19A: [Poetic time of day]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: ELTON (38A: [Piano player John])– Current NBA player ELTON Brand was the first overall pick of the 1999 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, joining the NBA after foregoing his final two years of eligibility at Duke University. He was the co-winner of the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2000 while a member of the Bulls and he has appeared in two NBA All-Star Games, in 2002 and 2006, both times as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Thanks so much once again, and sorry for the real late posting of this blog. See you all…later today?