If Patrick Blindauer’s recent week of meta-puzzle crosswords in the New York Times whetted your appetite for more, sign up for Patrick’s next puzzle suite, Space Puzzlefest.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “It’s Not What It Sounds Like”
Lots of words, phrases, and idioms in English sound like they could mean something entirely different:
- 23a. [It’s not a term for people who make Christmas treats], CANDYSTRIPERS. Hospital volunteers typically in red-and-white-striped uniforms.
- 25a. [It’s not a category of muscles], ALTOIDS. Mints.
- 32a. [It’s not a commentary on overcrowded prisons], LOCKED AND LOADED. As in a gun (I think).
- 41a. [It’s not a language], MANGANESE. Element.
- 48a. [It’s not a sci-fi series], ANOTHER WORLD. Soap opera.
- 60a. [It’s not a description of a diamond], BALLPARK FIGURE. Estimate. Thinking of Ballpark franks, I’m going to start using “Ballpark figure” to describe physiques that are markedly straighter than an hourglass figure.
- 72a. [It’s not an expensive type of shish kebab], CUTLASS SUPREME. A car of yore, an Oldsmobile. I think the wordplay is getting at “a cut that’s less supreme,” but I’m not sure. Why is shish kebab in the clue?
- 81a. [It’s not a person’s name], ROSETTA STONE. Aw, I sorta wanted this to be a poorly parsed PULLAFASTONE. Pullafa Stone? Um, no.
- 90a. [It’s not an Italian sandwich], CANAL ZONE. Panama’s Canal Zone meets a calzone.
- 99a. [It’s not a physical description of the Martians in “War of the Worlds”], THREE-LEGGED RACE. Running competition versus race of creatures.
- 109a. It’s not a fishing show], DRAGNET. Cop show, generic noun.
- 112a. [It’s not the full name of a famous cinema cowboy], TOM COLLINS MIX. Old movie cowboy Tom Mix is a name I pretty much learned from crosswords, and a Tom Collins is delicious. Didn’t know there was a Tom Collins mix, though.
Not a very hard theme to work through since they are all real things; only the clues evoke the pun angle.
Five more things:
- 28d. [Cause for concern], ODD. Interchangeable in a sentence following “Huh, that’s ___,” but they’re not the same part of speech so the clue’s a little surprising.
- 44d. [Opposition leader?], ANTI. Cute clue for a prefix, no? I liked it.
- 21a. [Surgeon’s prep?], PREMED. Prep for med school, not scrubbing in as prep for surgery.
- 86d. [Forward, a compound; backward, unaccompanied], ENOL. Well, that’s better than just a straightforward “organic compound” clue. See also: 104d. [Cheese that’s literally made upside-down?], EDAM. The word “made” backwards.
- 95a. [“Shoot first, ask Christian Slater,” for one], PUN. Ha! Hadn’t seen that one before.
3.66 stars from me.
Tom McCoy’s New York Times crossword, “Colorful Characters”
I loved this theme! Colors, drawing letters, and a quartet of perfectly explanatory entries.
- 102a. [Impersonal notes … or what four groups of this puzzle’s answers do (totaling 11 words)] clues FORM LETTERS.
- 6a. [Bird found in this grid’s lower-right corner] is BLUEJAY. Three entries are incomplete without the word “blue,” and if you color them in, you’ve made a blue J. 97a is blueBERRY, 98d is blue RIBBON, and 123a is a rare blue MOON.
- 57a. [Body of water found in this grid’s upper-right corner], YELLOW SEA. The yellow C is made from the yellow BRICKs of Oz, yellow-BELLIES, and YellowSTONE.
- 80a. [Beverage found in this grid’s lower-left corner], GREEN TEA. You need just two lines to make a green T, from Green GABLES crossing green LIGHT.
- 85a. [Injury found in this grid’s upper-left corner], BLACK EYE. A serif black letter I is built from black HOLES, blackLISTING, and that old black MAGIC.
Isn’t that neat? I enjoyed assembling the pieces of the theme as I worked through the grid. Are there other color/letter combos that would have worked? We could have had the short REDEYE or RED SEA instead of BLACKEYE or YELLOW SEA. BLACK TEA instead of the other BLACK and TEA phrases. GREEN PEA. Really not a ton of options, and McCoy’s set arranged itself fine, leaving the corners free for the letter drawings.
Seven more things:
- 34a. [Facetious unit defined as the amount of beauty needed to launch one ship], MILLIHELEN. Helen’s face, it’s said, launched 1,000 ships. Whimsical word.
- 75a, 77a. [With 77-Across, when combined into one word, national trivia championship, e.g.], NERD/FEST. What? No. The clue seems to suggest that there is some well-established national event called Nerdfest, but Google isn’t showing me anything compelling. Better to clue the two entries separately, if you ask me.
- 78a. [Hardware store or nursery purchase], BULB. Light bulb, flower bulb. Nice clue combo.
- 94a. [Relative of a panpipe], HARMONICA. Never thought of it that way.
- 12d. [Peak performance?], YODEL. I wonder how much yodeling goes on in the Alps these days.
- 48d. [110, to Bilbo Baggins], ELEVENTY. Love it! Favorite answer in the grid.
- 49d. [Sports star with size 18 shoes], YAO MING. I asked the two teenage hoops fans in the room to guess Yao Ming’s shoe size and they thought 21 or 22 (Shaq wears 23). A mere 18!
Toughest crossing, for a non-Doctor Who fan: 17d. [Robotic dog on “Doctor Who”] meets 30a. [It might be stained]. I had KNI*E and PA*E and scanned the rows of the keyboard for a letter that would work. Aha! K-NINE and a PANE of stained glass.
4.5 stars from me. A good bit of crisp and lively fill is interspersed among the 16 theme entries, and the theme appealed to me a lot.
Trip Payne’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 240”–Sam Donaldson’s review
Last week I was all proud of myself for solving Trip Payne’s “extra tough” November 1 NYT crossword, the one that would have been the “b*st*rd puzzle” from the most recent ACPT had the completed grid not been used as stock footage in an online interview prior to the tournament. I finished it during my morning MARTA commute, which is usually about 20 minutes tops. This means that if the puzzle had been used at the tournament I would have finished it within the allotted time (usually 30 minutes) and without errors. This doesn’t normally happen to me at the ACPT–I’ve only finished the dreaded “Puzzle 5” once in six attempts. I attribute the moral victory to being on Trip’s wavelength as a solver.
Until this week. For whatever reason, this week’s 68/32 freestyle by Trip put up one helluva fight. The northeast and southwest corners felt like normal, but I found those stacks in the northwest and the southeast to be really tough. Looking back, I can credit my slow solving time to sticking with a wrong answer that I would have sworn was right. Of course the answer to [“Don’t worry about it”] is NO PROBLEMO–what else could it be? Oh, I guess it could also be (and was) NO PRESSURE. Sticking with NO PROBLEMO for so long made it hard to make any progress in the southeast. It didn’t help that I couldn’t suss out the last letter to GLEEM, the [Rival of Rembrandt] (huh, I didn’t know there was a Rembrandt toothpaste), and couldn’t remember the last name of [One of the heroines of an 1868 novel], MEG MARCH For. The. Life. Of. Me.
Up in the northwest, I struggled with NEOGENE, the [
Rayburn that hosts “The New Match Game”] [Period before the Quaternary], and ANDANTE, the [Way I like my pasta cooked] musical tempo that [falls between adagio and moderato]. (Didn’t help that I was 110% confident that SATS was the answer to [Kaplan preps people for them] when the answer was GRES.)
And there were more trouble spots in that section. I knew that CHAS Addams was [Pugsley’s creator], for instance, but I kept wanting ADDAMS as the answer. Yes, I know the rule about clue agreement–since the clue used the character’s first name, the answer will be the cartoonist’s first name too. But just because I know the rules doesn’t mean I always remember them at helpful moments.
Put it all together and you get the comparatively slow solving time. As always, it’s not the puzzle’s fault. Indeed, I liked this one a lot. Some more highlights:
- The crossing [Flaky sort]s, SPACE CADET and PINHEAD, felt like apt labels for me once I finally figured out that corner.
- Did the original clue to YELPING make reference to searching for nearby restaurants on a smart phone? These are the things I think about when I’m flailing during a solve. (The actual clue was [Pound sound].)
- [Businesses that are constantly folding] sounds like it should be answered with DRY CLEANERS, but it turned out to be TACO STANDS. On a marginally related note, I’m glad that we’re not seeing [Folded snack] as the clue for TACO as much as we used to in recent years. Only the most gluttonous among us would think of a taco as a “snack.” It may not be a heavy meal, but it’s more than a snack, right? In any case, [Folded fiesta food] is just fine.
- Anyone else read [Scope user] and think mouthwash? Okay, maybe it was just me. But that sure made it harder to get AIMER. (One who is aiming with a rifle, for example, would use a scope.)
- I don’t know “green goddess dressing,” but if SOUR CREAM is one of its ingredients, I have to question the freshness of the sour cream.
- For those puritans unfamiliar with the game of craps, a roll of eleven (6 and 5) is called a “natural.” Hence [Naturals, sometimes] works as a clue for ELEVENS. It’s nice to contribute some real expertise to these write-ups from time to time.
Favorite entry = SPEED CHESS, clued as [Where promotions happen faster than usual]. Deliciously evil clue, but I like the entry because it’s just made for the bottom row of a triple stack, what with all of those Es and Ss. And yet, unlike, say, ESSAY TESTS or ASSAYERS, it doesn’t feel overused. Favorite clue = [Islander player of note], which refers not to the New York Islanders hockey franchise but instead to Gilligan’s Island, bringing one to the answer, TINA LOUISE. She played Ginger Grant, the rusty version of Marilyn Monroe.
Patrick Jordan’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good morning, CrossSynergists!
Before going on a five-mile run today, my first objective of the day was to eat up today’s Challenge, offered up to us on this Sunday by Mr. Patrick Jordan, and it was one that I did LIKE A LOT (37D: [Enjoy greatly]). Speaking of liking a lot, the entry going across, BLAZON, is great to see, and a word I need to incorporate more often, probably because I engage in it myself sometimes (36A: [Embellish slowly]). Probably a quarter of the women who I know will agree with the quote associated with the AGE entry (47A: [“A very high price to pay for maturity,” per Tom Stoppard]). When I was really young, I used to like SALAMI on sandwiches, but I can’t tell you the last time I’ve tasted it (56A: [Submarine layer, often]). It’s possible I’ve had it by accident, but in terms of a conscious decision to eat salami, might have to go back to elementary school. For some (foolish) reason, I thought Crimsonite was some sort of a gem, and was totally bamboozled as to how ELI relates (23A: [Obama: Crimsonite :: Clinton: ___]). Only after getting it from crosses did I realize how much of a dunce I was for not realizing that was referencing the nicknames of their alma maters. Of all my times down in Texas (and it’s been at least seven or eight times), I don’t think I have seen a PECAN (43A: [State tree of Texas]). It might be time to keep an eye out for them next time I head down, which might be in a couple of months. Overall, this was a SMOOTH solving experience today (18A: [Turbulence-free]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: STEELER (8D: [“Mean Joe” Greene, for his entire professional career])– “Thanks, Mean Joe!” Have a Coke and a smile, courtesy of “Mean Joe” Greene and one of the most memorable commercials in television advertising history. By the way, how many different STEELER players are going to score touchdowns when the Steelers DRUB the New York Jets today (4D: [Defeat decisively])?
See you all on Monday, and have a good rest of your Sunday!!
Joel LaFargue’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Make It Count”
An IT gets inserted into familiar phrases to change the meaning, mostly to good effect:
- 23a. [Diminutive flower?], PETITE ROSE.
- 25a. [Cultural pursuits with limits?], FINITE ARTS.
- 47a. [Musician to feel sorry for?], PITIED PIPER.
- 70a. [Novel set in a church?], PULPIT FICTION. Can you name some examples?
- 92a. [Indispensable poet?], VITAL KILMER. Joyce Kilmer isn’t one of those poets studied deeply by English majors—he wrote that “Trees” verse. If you don’t have his name in mind and aren’t pop-culture-savvy enough for Val Kilmer, that M may have killed you—95d. [Leighton of “Gossip Girl”] clues MEESTER, and Leighton looks more like a last name than a first name so who’s gonna guess anything like MEESTER? (She’s Leighton Meester.)
- 115a. [Departure from the bookstore?], EXIT LIBRIS. Ex libris means “from the library of,” so I’m not sure why “bookstore” is in the clue. I guess because there’s too much morpheme crossover between LIBRIS and library.
- 117a. [Giant gods waiting for tickets?], TITAN LINES. Good one! I’m picturing the Greek gods with tan lines too.
- 33d. [Acerbic fruit?], BITING CHERRY. No, thank you. I like my cherries sweet.
- 43d. [Serious transport?], GRAVITY TRAIN. I started with GRAVITY BOATS.
Theme works well enough. A tad dry, perhaps, like a great many Sunday add-letters themes. The grid comes close to barring extraneous ITs—I see only I LOST IT, DEPOSIT, and ELITE. A very minor point.
Five more things:
- For 100d. [Outlet site], my first thought was MALL. I’ll bet some on-paper solvers finish the puzzle with MALL instead of WALL and MAITE instead of 100a. [Ralph of “The Waltons”], WAITE.
- 63a. [Near East inn], SERAI. Crosswordese! From caravanserai, also spelled caravansary.
- 41a. [’50s/’60s character actor Lyle], BETTGER. I’m sorry, who?? He merits a Wikipedia entry, but not a thorough “filmography” table.
- 48d. [Messages on packages], INDICIA. In addition to its postal-related meaning (which I think is reflected in this clue, nonspecifically), there are also indicia in publishing.
- 11d. [West of Georgia], KANYE. Say what? Checking … Okay, he was born in Atlanta, but I wouldn’t call him “of” there. He’s a Chicagoan through and through. Granted, he now lives in Southern California with Kim Kardashian, but he came out of Chicago’s rap scene and not the South’s.
3.5 stars from me.
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “What’s Her Name?” — pannonica’s write-up
Careering, sometimes off-the-wall, puns involving women’s first names.
- 23a. [Student of ocean life?] MAUREEN BIOLOGIST (marine …). Tried MARY ANN first. Speaking of marine, 40a [Seafood entree] is PRAWNS, which are generally taken to mean freshwater varieties of “shrimp”, but then again what we call “seafood” includes limnetic and lotic critters. Oh, English, what are we going to do with you?
- 58a. [Meteorologist during a bad winter?] PAULA VORTEX (polar …).
- 95a. [Woman on the fast track to ruin?] HELENA HANDBASKET ([going to] hell in a …). That’s a well-known one.
- 3d. [Civil-rights activist?] RACHEL RELATIONS (racial …).
- 30d. [NCAA fan?] MARGE MADNESS (March …).
- 37d. [Chem-lab worker?] JANE REACTION (chain …).
- 51d. [One preparing ribs?] BARBARA Q GRILL (bar-b-q / barbecue …).
Unusual arrangement of theme answers. Only three acrosses, moving from right to left, but four verticals descending roughly evenly from left to right. The answers themselves are fairly entertaining, worth the price of admission.
Some really tough entries in the grid. 20a [Darker shade of crimson] ALIZARIN (also called mordant red) crossing 14d [Nitrogen-based] AZO (which also figures in dyeing) in the upper right. The cluster of 71d [Filler for “la plume”] ENCRE crossing 78a [2003 Lisa Kudrow movie] MARCI X and 84a [Popular math puzzle] KOKURO. Mildly surprised that 89d [Corral] PEN wasn’t cross-referenced with 71-down.
- Might not be to everyone’s taste, but I liked some of the less well-known fill, including 59d [1991 Nicholson Baker book] U AND I, involving a fictional relationship with John Updike. 52d [Jeff’s pal, in Groening cartoons] AKBAR; according to a lineup of dramatis personae Groening once published, Akbar & Jeff are characterized thus – “Brothers or lovers, or possibly both, Nothing perturbs them, Distinguishing features: fezzes, both eyes on same side of head.” 21d [Shoelace tip] AGLET; I remember learning this piece of seeming arcana in my teens but now it seems to be the number one bit of trivia that everyone knows – has it passed into common knowledge, or was I mistaken in my youth?
- 55d [Seville street] CALLE. Would have preferred the clue to use the endonymic Sevilla to more explicitly indicate that this was merely a translation clue.
- 47d. [ __ Rebellion, 1957–59] SEPOY. I’m going to chalk this up as a transcription error to the .puz format. Obviously, it’s off by a century (1857–1858). Learned about the event in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman in the Great Game. The Harry Flashman novels have consistently been the most entertaining and vivid way that I’ve acquire valid historical knowledge.
- Mysterious clue/answer: 27a [Inquisitive cabbie?] BAILEY. Unrelated: 64a [Dan of MGM musicals fame] DAILEY.
- Cleverest clue: 48a [Their act is hardly a put-on] STRIPPERS.
Not the most original theme, but an entertaining and, in spots, tough crossword.