Trip Payne’s New York Times crossword
This 17×17 puzzle was originally constructed as the devious puzzle #5 for the 2014 ACPT, but then it was spoiled by a video interview with Will Shortz (answer grid appears at the 1:11 point) that was posted earlier in March so Will had to hustle to get a replacement puzzle in time for the tournament. (If you are a syndication solver from the future seeing the Saturday puzzle 5 weeks later, you’re getting a different puzzle in the standard 15×15 size. I don’t have your answers.)
The puzzle’s intended title, “Covert Operations,” and the ACPT-style blurb “No one said there was going to be math” are left off here. Even knowing the title (I asked Trip to share it) didn’t make the theme’s trick scream out at me. Yep, it played like a twisty ACPT #5, all right. Here’s how the theme rolls:
- 19a. [81 ÷ 27], BATTLEFIELD. Hmm, that’s 3, and Kathleen Battle’s field is opera, which is part of the word “Operations” … and those are both utter red herrings. 81a is PLACE, 27a is WAR, and a BATTLEFIELD is a “place divided by war.”
- 34a. [61 + 86], NEUTROGENA. The math gets you 147, which gets you … nowhere. 61a is PERT, 86a is RIVAL, and you could say that a certain Neutrogena product is sort of a “Pert Plus rival.” Although Pert Plus is a mainstream shampoo + conditioner product, and Neutrogena’s only shampoos are dandruff shampoos, a clear “anti-residue” bottle, and some tubes that are shampoos but look a lot like other haircare products. Close enough for crosswords.
- 63a. [56 x 42], REPEATEDLY. You can do the multiplication yourself. 56a and 42a get us “MANY times OVER,” which is a frightfully clever use of a mathematical operation word.
- 83a. [33 – 21], GROSS PROFIT. This one uses Downs, 33d and 21d, NET SALES minus COSTS.
It took me a few minutes of poking around to figure out the theme, and even knowing the title didn’t make it at all obvious for me. The answers were plausible fill, certainly, but I can’t swear that I would’ve understood what was going on if I’d solved this last March at ACPT. Might’ve finished in 8 minutes and change, raised my hand, turned in my paper, and headed out to the hotel hallway to ask other people what the hell the theme was. Tricksy!
- 6a. [Future works?], SCI-FI. Literary works typically set in the future.
- 22a. [Bee relative], OPIE. I was thinking of spelling bees and stinging insects, not Aunt Bee of old TV.
- 39a. [He is one], ELEM. Blah answer, an abbreviation I rarely see outside of crosswords, but I always like the “chemical symbol masquerading as a regular word or letter” ploy.
- 88a. [Wind stopper?], BEANO. Yay! Not a clue for some game I never see outside of crosswords.
Most controversial entry: 52d. [Fleece], GYP. The etymology isn’t nailed down solidly, I don’t think, but it’s widely thought to be a slur derived from “Gypsy.” Tough to replace the entry in this grid, as the Y and P cross thematic MANY and PERT, and the G offers the only possible ending for MR BI*. With four longish theme answers and eight shorter ones in the grid, I reckon it was a tough fill.
Bonus points to Trip for the clean math of 81 ÷ 27—move those answers a notch to one side and you wouldn’t have an evenly divisible pair.
4.25 stars from me. Nice to have a tough head-cracker for a Saturday challenge.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Drinking Songs”—Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everybody! I say let’s make this a November to Remember when it comes to crosswords, shall we? Let’s drink to that!
Today’s puzzle, served up to us in a tall, cold glass at the bar by Mr. Raymond Hamel, is a straightforward theme in which each of the four theme answers are songs titles, and those song titles also happen to be alcoholic drinks. I know at least one of these songs is now stuck in your mind for at least a little bit after solving this puzzle. Which one did that for you?
- JOSE CUERVO: (17A: [1983 Shelly West song])
- WHITE LIGHTNING: (27A: [1959 George Jones song])
- TEQUILA SUNRISE: (46A: [1973 Eagles song])
- RED RED WINE: (57A: [1983 UB40 song]) – This song was/is the ear worm for me.
Well, outside of “Red Red Wine,” what I’m thinking about right now is the unfortunate fate of dogs that become SMELLY because of coming across a particular weasel when agitated (21A: [Like a dog sprayed by a skunk]). I had a wide smile on my face after getting U.N.C.L.E. and I plopped it down without the use of any crossings (18D: [THRUSH adversary on ’60s TV]). Although I haven’t watched all of the episodes, I’m totally a huge fan of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and, right after Harrison Ford, the person/actor I think of when I hear “Solo” is Robert Vaughn’s character in the show. I also got iCARLY without needing any crossings (even though I already had the “i” from White Lightning), though I’m not sure if I should be as proud of getting that so quickly as getting U.N.C.L.E. without the crossings as well (28D: [Teen sitcom that starred Miranda Cosgrove]). Although many sports fans make mention of the 1985 Bears as one of the best teams in football history, some forget that the Super Bowl they won that season occurred in the calendar year of 1986, and in 1985, the Super Bowl that year, XIX, featured a San Francisco 49ers triumph over the Miami Dolphins (45A: [Number of the 1985 Super Bowl]). No team has ever “hosted” a Super Bowl in the Super Bowl era, but those 49ers came closest, as Super Bowl XIX took place at Stanford Stadium in nearby Palo Alto, Calif. Despite those little nuggets, that’s not our “sports….smarter” moment, as that’s reserved for…
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: EL NIÑO (47D: [Weather factor]) – I was so bummed that there wasn’t an extra “P” in PUPA (41D: [Insect form]) so I could talk about former National Hockey League goaltender Darren Puppa. But we’ll stick with El NIÑO, which happens to be the nickname of current Spanish golfer Sergio García. He burst onto the national spotlight in 1999 when, at age 19, finished second to Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship, one of golf’s four majors. That second-place finish is one of four runner-up finishes he has had in his career at majors, and he’s also finished in the Top 10 six other times. Alas, the main storyline in his career so far, despite all of that success, is that he’s never won a major.
Have a good Saturday, everyone, and I’ll see you for the Sunday Challenge!
Victor Barocas’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review
No, that’s not a typo. I solved this puzzle in two minutes and twenty-four seconds. I enjoyed those seconds, though. I think I was lucky to have spelled KABLOOIE right on the first try. WHERE WAS I? is a fun entry, as is WOE IS ME! Mini golf theme (or maybe a mini-golf theme?) with BIRDIES and HOLE-IN-ONE. Rhyming historical entries with the OK CORRAL and the ERIE CANAL.
Victor always has some good clues in his puzzles. I liked the clue for EROTIC ART [Blue wall decorations], though I don’t necessarily put my erotic art on the wall. Another fun clue is the one for POOL CUE [Handy thing to have when you need a break?]. Also loved [Cabs may be lined up at one] for WINE BAR.
A bit of a no-no with the dupe entries TO SEE and SEEN AS. Not too much else in this puzzle to gripe about. Maybe ELD or AGA in terms of crosswordese, or the variant AEON. A very solid puzzle, lots of nice fill. A great example of an easy themeless/weekend puzzle. 3.75 stars from me. Until next week!
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (written as Anna Stiga)
I was misled! On Twitter, Joe Cabrera wrote “If you don’t normally do the Newsweek Saturday Stumper because it’s too tough, today’s is much easier. (Also, you should be doing them.)” So I was expecting a breezy solve—and then instead, the bulk of the grid to the north and west of the center diagonal fought me tooth and nail, and I ended up with a “definitely in the hardest half of all Stumpers” solving time. Filling in PHABLETS and PLUNGE for 1a/1d was an unfortunate misstep.
Things I didn’t know or don’t quite get:
- 1a. [LG products], SMART TVS. My husband informs me that this is what his parents have, and that’s why they can Skype us via the TV screen. (I knew the folks’ TV offered a sorely underutilized 3-D, that’s all.) No idea that “smart TV” was a thing!
- 19a. [The Men and Women of Troy], USC. The USC team name is the Trojans but I have never, ever seen the phrase in the clue. And my cousin graduated from USC! (In 3 1/2 years, engineering major. Proud of Alison!) Note, however, the duplication with 34d: [Southern __] CAL.
- 20a. [Counter protector], BEER MAT. Never, ever heard that term. To the Google! Apparently it is nothing more than a coaster. Who puts their beer on a counter, though? Table, bar, sure. Not pleased with this clue.
- 51a. [Major patent seller of 2013], KODAK. I missed the news story last year, but ***AK + corporation with patents = KODAK.
- 62a. [“Progressive jazz” Big Band leader]. KENTON. I’ve heard of Stan Kenton, but was lost on 55d and had an A in that crossing for too long.
- 65a. [21 Down ad phrase], STAY HERE, 21d being MOTEL. Feels a hair contrived and awkward to me. Is there a specific “Stay here” slogan I don’t know about?
- 3d. [Instrument made from bamboo], ABACUS. Was thinking of musical instruments. Rewarding “aha” moment when I had a few crossings and the shoe dropped.
- 4d. [Netflix mail identifier], RED. I don’t know what this means. How is an envelope color a “mail identifier”? Awkward.
- 24d. [Verb coined by Lewis Carroll], GALUMPH. And a great word that is!
- 36d. [Lancaster Oscar role], PREACHER. Wasn’t sure what this referenced—it’s Elmer Gantry, 1960.
- 55d. [“You may __ me in the very dirt”: Angelou], TROD. Hey! No fair calling on poetry that slips in a past-tense verb where context calls for a present-tense word. I tried TRAP, as TREAD wouldn’t fit and standard usage would call for “tread on.” It’s from the first bit of “Still I Rise,” though, which I would expect myself to be more familiar with.
Favorite fill: the [Sarcastic show of support] called a GOLF CLAP. SCHLOCK and GALUMPH are fun too.
Timeliest bits: 7d. [Choose], VOTE IN, and 9d. [Tried to keep one’s seat], RERAN. Vote this weekend, if early voting’s an option where you live, or vote on Tuesday! I voted two days ago.