Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Shades of John D. MacDonald”
There are 21 short theme answers here—colors that fill in the blanks in the titles of all of MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. Guess what? I don’t know any of these titles! It wasn’t difficult to notice that the answer words were all colors, which helped me guess at them. Overall, though, it was a strikingly unpleasant solve, given that the colors were often stacked all the way down the grid (I’ve highlighted them with circled letters), making the whole venture a “work the crossings” experience. And those crossings sometimes stunk! The last square I filled in was the A in AMBER in 11a. [“Darker Than ___”]. UMBER is also a color, and the crossing was 11d. [TV ratings company: abbr.]. I finally recalled Arthur C. Nielsen, but I can’t say I think of the Nielsen ratings company as “ACN.”
While it is certainly technically impressive to stack 21 theme answers in a 21×21 grid—and a neat find that the colors happen to sort out into a symmetrically paired list with a sole 9-letter one for the middle—this solver didn’t have any fun at all. Merl’s notepad explanation [“This year is the 50th anniversary of the first Travis McGee detective novel (103 Across). John D. MacDonald wrote exactly 21 books featuring his famous sleuth – just enough to leave a colorful (and perfectly symmetrical) trail for you to follow.”] was more entertaining than the crossword.
Here are the theme answers, and the assorted unpleasantnesses that surrounded them:
- 11a. [“Darker Than ___”], AMBER. See first paragraph.
- 18a. [“The ___ Ruse”], SCARLET. Sandwiched between two other color themers, with ACN and the unfamiliar and obscure EL MIRAGE crossing it.
- 22a. [“___ Skin”], CINNAMON. See 18a issues.
- 25a. [“The Dreadful ___ Sky”], LEMON. A lemon-colored sky would indeed invite dread.
- 30a. [“One Fearful ___ Eye”], YELLOW. Crossing 31d. [Luxor’s land: abbr.], EGY? Ugly.
- 36a. [“A Deadly Shade of ___”], GOLD. How many synonyms for “yellow” does this author need to use?
- 41a. [“Pale ___ for Guilt”], GRAY. 34d. [France’s 200 m.p.h. train], TGV, plus EGY? Ughy.
- 45a. [“The Lonely ___ Rain”], SILVER.
- 52a. [“A ___ Place for Dying”], PURPLE. I don’t know what purple places are.
- 60a. [“A ___ and Sandy Silence”], TAN.
- 71a. [“The ___ Lament”], TURQUOISE. Don’t know your MacDonald books and having trouble in this section? Then maybe you know the awkwardly pluralized fictional character below it, 75a. [Vonnegut’s Kilgore et al.], TROUTS. I think an awkwardly pluralized fish would be fairer here.
- 76a. [“The Quick ___ Fox”], RED. Not a ton of 3-letter colors to choose from, but that R crossing is pretty blind. 43d. [Hoffa, formally], JAMES R.? I reckon 95% of us had no idea what Jimmy Hoffa’s middle initial was.
- 83a. [“Dress Her in ___”], INDIGO.
- 90a. [“The Empty ___ Sea”], COPPER.
- 96a. [“Nightmare in ___”], PINK.
- 103a. [“The Deep ___ Good-by”], BLUE. Crossing 105d. [Not pleasant], UNNICE? That’s a rarely spotted word, all right.
- 109a. [“Bright ___ for the Shroud”], ORANGE. 103d. [Street pal] for BRO? News flash: “Bro” is scarcely some sort of “urban,” black vocabulary these days. It’s relatively fratted out and white. Tired of seeing “street” or “urban” clues for BRO.
- 114a. [“The Girl in the Plain ___ Wrapper”], BROWN.
- 119a. [“The Long ___ Look”], LAVENDER. Does anyone even care that the titles are often utterly nonsensical? If you’re not great with names, the bottom of the theme stack is pretty deadly. The SLC, MARG, RETROVIR, ODENSE, DON, BEN, and ORR crossings make up most or all of the last three themers.
- 124a. [“Free Fall in ___”], CRIMSON. I assume this book is largely about menstruation.
- 127a. [“The ___ Ripper”], GREEN.
I know some solvers get a huge kick out of puzzles with a big “Look what the constructor managed to do!” aspect, but often such architectural achievements overshadow solving fun for a great many other solvers.
Fill I liked includes KABOOM, POODLES, PIPE DREAM, and PAPEETE, Tahiti.
Three more things:
- 100d. [“Laughter without a tinge of philosophy is but ___ of humor” (Mark Twain)], A SNEEZE. Long partial, unfamiliar but intriguing quote.
- 122d. [Flagstaff sch.], NAU. I’ve heard of Northern Arizona University, a Division I sports school, but the NAU abbreviation was entirely unfamiliar.
- 63a. [Actor Wilde], CORNEL. Who?? Old-time actor. For my generation, I suspect that Professor Cornel West is a far better-known CORNEL. Perhaps he could even be cited in the occasional AFRO clue.
2.5 disappointed stars from me.
Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Holdup Man”
This puzzle breaks one of the cardinal rules of construction by isolating the center ball of fill from the rest of the grid. It does so to make a picture of a globe (or one of the celestial spheres?) being held aloft by 102d: ATLAS, the [Mythological figure hinted at by the answers to the eight starred clues as well as this puzzle’s design]. I didn’t have trouble breaking into the center section, but it’s certainly plausible that the isolation made things harder for some solvers.
The eight starred clues are:
- 23a. [*One who’s not leading], SUPPORTING ACTOR. Atlas supports the world.
- 29a. [*”I have some bad news …”], BRACE YOURSELF. Atlas, uh … braces the world? Braces himself to hold it up? Not sure.
- 69a. [*Very durable], HEAVY-DUTY. Holding a planet is a heavy duty, but not heavy-duty.
- 100a. [*What a massage may relieve], UPPER BACK PAIN. Um … I don’t get it. Atlas uses his upper back? He has a backache? He pushes the earth into an UPPER position? To the Google! Apparently lowercase atlas is also a word for the uppermost vertebra. I suspect most solvers don’t know that because this medical editor did not.
- 114a. [*Not shirk a difficult task], SHOULDER THE LOAD. What Atlas does.
- 16d. [*Comfort provider during difficult times], PILLAR OF STRENGTH. Loosely connected to Atlas?
- 45d. [*Arnold Schwarzenegger, once], MR. OLYMPIA. Random strong man has nothing to do with mythological Atlas, right?
- 37d. [*Crushing burden], WEIGHT OF THE WORLD. Literal burden for Atlas, provided anything mythological can be called “literal.”
Not all of the theme answers connect directly enough to Atlas for my taste.
In the non-theme fill, I’m fond of ACAI BERRY, FREEBIE, BEER STEIN, and ERIN MORAN.
A few things didn’t ring a bell for me:
- 58a. [Middle line of many an address: Abbr.], PO BOX NO. “PO Box number,” “PO Box #,” sure. There are junky dictionary websites that attest “PO box no” but the carefully curated mainstream dictionaries omit it.
- 78a. [Content that’s hard for a search engine to access], DEEP WEB. No idea what this is. Deb Amlen wrote a humor column about it earlier this year, which gives me some idea now. (Darknet is part of the Deep Web. This blog is on the regular Web.)
- 117a. [Warren who wrote “The War of the Roses”], ADLER. He’s a novelist, I see, and that book (made into a Kathleen Turner movie) is the best-known of his 40 titles. Never heard of him.
- 119a. [Engineers’ competition set in a ring], ROBOT-SUMO.
- 9d. [Operatic baritone Pasquale], AMATO.
- 97d. [Coordinated gene cluster], OPERON.
3.5 stars from me. The theme didn’t cohere as strongly as I’d have liked, and the fill was pretty solid but not enough to make me see past the theme issues.
Alan Olschwang’s syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Double Shift”
The title refers to the shifting of one letter two spaces to the right in each theme answer, turning a familiar phrase into a goofy one. For the longest time, I thought it was a sound-change or homophone theme, but no.
- 23a. [eHarmony, e.g.?], MATE MARKET. From “meat market,” with the first E shifted two letters over.
- 28a. [Pride of a pride protector?], MANE STREAKS. “Mean streaks.” I was trying to peg this one to “Main Street” or “mainstream” but it just wasn’t working. And neither is the clue. What is the “pride protector” here? What sort of STREAKS are we talking about? Winning streaks in … protecting … a pride of lions? Highlighted hair streaks in the mane? Naked streaking? No idea.
- 34a. [Made a healthier menu selection?], WENT WITH THE FOWL. “Flow.” How many of you call it fowl rather than poultry when you’re talking about food?
- 59a. [Organized effort to get a different judge?], RECUSE MISSION. “Rescue.” That would be a recusal mission, no?
- 66a. [Ashes?], GRATE EXPECTATIONS. “Great.” Fire grates are not funny things, so this wordplay is mighty dry.
- 78a. [Contest in which tires are hurled?], SPARE THROWING. “Spear.”
- 96a. [Makes meticulous roster moves?], TRADES CAREFULLY. “Treads.”
- 104a. [Precious river stone?], NILE DIAMOND. “Neil Diamond.”
- 117a. [How to eat lots of soup?], BOWL BY BOWL. “Blow by blow,” double double-shift.
Five of the nine theme answers changed —EA— words into —A*E words, while the other four moved an L, an S, an E in EI, and two L’s. I’d have liked it better if most weren’t the same letter shift, as the other four practically looked like part of a different theme. None of the resulting phrases whacked me in the funny bone, so I didn’t feel too rewarded each time I pieced a theme answer together. My complete failure to understand what on earth MANE STREAKS is getting at also made the puzzle less fun.
Five more things:
- 17d. Take in], BILK. Man, this word, I was working on it for so long because MANE STREA*S wasn’t coming together for me based on the clue. For 15a. [Sticks figure], I considered a RUNE instead of a RUBE. Given that 26a. [Valley] could be DELL or DALE, this was a gnarly little corner.
- 5a. [Some barks], SHIPS. Were you trying to to choose among WOOFS and the words that wouldn’t fit, YIPS and YAPS and ARFS? I didn’t realize that a nautical bark was a “small sailing ship” and would have thought BOATS was more apt.
- 49a. [Designer sportswear label], GANT. It’s not much on my radar.
- 100a. [Old-style street show], RAREE. Whoa! Feels like it’s been years since I saw a RAREE in the puzzle. Used to be much commoner fill. I hadn’t missed it one whit. See also: 2d: AMAH. Right up in the opening corner of the puzzle, that word put me on notice: Look out, there may be a lot of fusty crosswordese to come.
- 102a. [Traveler’s insurance?: Abbr.], TSA. What, the people who check luggage and travelers are “insurance”? No, I don’t buy it. They insure nothing but extra waits.
Foreign vocab: ESO, AMAS, OSSO, STADT. The first three were all clustered together and gave a bit of an “omigod, it’s foreign crosswordese day” vibe.
Weird word of the day: 99d. [Vaporous], FUMY. I don’t know how one would use this word. Dictionary says “emitting or full of fumes; fumelike.” Boy, I don’t know when I’d ever need “fumelike.”
I did like BUGABOO, TRINIDAD, and NAMING NAMES, but overall I wasn’t loving the fill. 2.9 stars from me.
Jeffrey Harris’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 244”–Sam Donaldson’s review
Check out that funky grid! This week’s 66/38 freestyle Post Puzzler from Jeffrey Harris could be titled “Clash of the Elevens.” Stair-stepped 11s running down the midsection cross another stair-stepped stack of 11s running across the equator. Those intersecting steps give you 24 black squares right off the bat. There’s plenty of open water leading into the northeast and southwest corners, but only tiny viaducts for ingress and egress to and from the northwest and southeast corners. So you’re getting three puzzles in one.
Usually those orphaned corners scare me a little–if I can’t figure out just two or three clues, the section may never fall. But this time I found the isolated corners easier than the rest of the puzzle. I was able to plunk down OCULAR, MOSSY, and ABS without little effort, so even though I didn’t know DA GAMA was the [Figure on the 5,000-escudo note] or that MACY was a [Contemporary of Filene] (boy does that clue look easier in hindsight) the corner found itself completed early on in the solve.
Ditto for the southeast. Sure, I thought [Uncle Ben’s co-creator] had to do with rice, not Spider-Man (the answer was STAN LEE), and I no nothing of this [“Naughty Naughty” singer John] PARR, but everything else there was pretty gettable without much strain.
The only lasting hangup for me was in the northeast. For whatever reason, I went with VOLT as the [Mitsubishi model] instead of COLT, and that made sussing out the [Gum source] next to impossible. Only once I had all four (!) vowels in place did I see that the answer was ACACIA, an answer that is (or should have been) familiar enough in crosswords.
Highlights from the puzzle:
- I like the vertical stair-step of THE DESERTER, OLIVER NORTH, and VAYA CON DIOS better than the horizontal stair-step of CLOSE AT HAND, FLOWER CHILD, and PROPER NOUNS, though that’s a pretty nice stack itself. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of THE DESERTER, the [1971 western about an embittered Army officer]. Is it any good?
- I don’t think I have ever played GUESS WHO, the [Milton Bradley game involving yes-or-no questions]. I think I was too old by the time it came out.
- [Word with butt or drunk] is a saucy little clue for DIAL. I tried to think of a better clue, but no soap.
- [“Red” actor] is WILLIS? Wha’chu talkin’ about?
- I liked [Course of action?] as a clue for PHYS ED. Shouldn’t there be something to signal the use of an abbreviation here?
Favorite entry = You can rarely go wrong with FRITO LAY, the [PepsiCo division] doing its part in the crusade for obesity. Favorite clue = Tie between [It may gather dust] for CLOTH and [They’re capped at the front] for the aforementioned PROPER NOUNS.
Doug Peterson’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everybody!
What a pleasure it was to complete this Sunday Challenge, served up to us today by Mr. Doug Peterson. In maybe the best first clue/answer pairing in the history of crosswords (pardon my hyperbole), SUPER FREAK got my solving experience off to a flying start (1A: [1981 Rick James hit sampled on MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”]). It also made me sing aloud the first verse, which I know from memory…and you should know, too! After that, the rest of the Northwest was pretty straightforward, though it took me a whole lot to not look at FLYER without shivering, as I’m a fan of one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ rivals, the New Jersey Devils (6D: [Professional hockey player in orange, black and white]). In the Northeast, another amazing answer was ANIMANIACS, and I know that I watched that Warner Bros. cartoon religiously when I came home from school back when (’90s kids show featuring Yakko, Wakko and Dot]). Speaking on animated characters, there’s another featured in the grid with ABE SIMPSON, father of Homer Simpson (27D: [Springfield character who lives in the Springfield Retirement Castle]). Though I pretty much stay at Holiday Inns when I travel, I’m pretty sure that, if I looked at my itineraries from days gone by, I stayed at an ECONOLODGE once or twice (15A: [Motel 6 competitor]). To be honest, though, all of the hotels that I’ve stayed at are starting to blur in my mind. But let’s go back to Super Freak: “She’s a very kinky girl…the kind you don’t take home to mother!” OK, maybe I’m enjoying that entry a little bit too much…
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: HAVOC (44D: [Utter chaos])– “HAVOC” is the name given to the style of play incorporated by the Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team, currently head coached by Shaka Smart. That style is a relentless full-court pressing defense which tries to cause as many turnovers as possible. (VCU has led the NCAA in steals the past three seasons.) In 2011, that defense helped spur a Cinderella run all the way to the Final Four, VCU’s first Final Four appearance in school history. Oh, and if you didn’t think HAVOC is engrained in the basketball team’s identity, then this picture of a seating section at the Siegel Center in Richmond, home to the Rams, should convince you a little more.
See you Monday, and thank you so much for the time! “Temptations sing!”
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “One Henry Salutes Another” — pannonica’s write-up
Perhaps you might initially think this crossword would be a tribute to Hook’s CRooked stablemate H Rathvon, but of course it isn’t. First, Rathvon seems fairly private and probably wouldn’t appreciate having anything about his life luridly splashed across a 21×21 grid, in black and white. (Can something lurid (Latin luridus pale yellow, sallow) be black and white? More color commentary to come.) Second, I bet H Hook knows better than to snub Rathvon’s collaborator E Cox.
So who’s the recipient of tribute? 22a [The Henry honored herein] MANCINI. April of this year marked the 90th anniversary of his birth.
- 23a. [With 66-Across, Oscar-winning song] DAYS OF WINE AND | ROSES.
- 33a. [Oscar-nominated song] DEAR HEART.
- 61a. [Song from “The Great Race,” with “The”] SWEETHEART TREE. I’m okay with the duplication of heart here.
- 70a. [1966 song] MOMENT TO MOMENT.
- 93a. [Song of the Year Grammy winner] MOON RIVER. In 1962, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
- 106a. [One movie title song …] TWO FOR THE ROAD.
- 107a. [… and another] CHARADE. Nifty how these, as clued, metapuzzically close out the across answers, the ones that occupy the visual end of the theme material (even though, as per usual, I’m listing the down answers afterward here).
- 1d. [Instrumental classic, with “The”] PINK PANTHER THEME.
- 41d. [Grammy-winning tune] BABY ELEPHANT WALK. From the crossword-friendly Hatari.
Strange how some of the clues reference a date, or a film, or announce that the song shares a title with a film, while others are comparatively vague even though they could be clued in similar ways. Comes across as uneven.
- Aside from the theme, my major impression while solving was an abundance of names, especially first names. Let’s see how that sense tallies with reality as I compile a list. [“The Big Bang Theory” role] RAJ, [Charlie’s widow] OONA, [Falco or Brickell] EDIE, [Ranger’s sidekick] TONTO, [Larry, “West Side Story”‘s first Tony] – that’s a confusing clue – KERT, [La Toya’s sister] JANET, [Funny Fey] TINA, [Anita of jazz] O’DAY, [Cheops’s alias] KHUFU, [Osiris’s sister/wife] ISIS, [Ivanovic of tennis] ANA, [“Rubiyat” poet] OMAR, [Noted gatekeeper] ST PETER, [Senator Hatch] ORRIN, [Part of a Freddy Kreuger costume] FEDORA, [Pauline Reage’s “Story __”] OF O, [Fleetwood and Foley] MICKS, [Author Rand] AYN.Strictly surnames: [Bergman’s “Gaslight” costar] BOYER, [“Citizen Kane” actor] COTTEN, [“Piano Man” man] JOEL, [Filene’s Basement companion] SYMS (see Filene’s strangely similar appearance in 23a of the WaPo today), [Political satirist P.J.] O’ROURKE, [Inspector in Holmes tales] LESTRADE.Still seems like a lot to me, and I don’t think I’ve been too inclusive in my categorization.Honorable mentions: [Hidden valley] GLEN, [Gary’s home] INDIANA, [Roscoe] GAT.
- Speaking of GAT, we also get 106d [Sleuth] TEC, which leads us to 113a [Bleak, in Hollywood] NOIR. And here I can revisit my contradictory color curiosity: isn’t it interesting how bleak (Middle English bleke pale; probably akin to Old English blāc) and noir (Middle French noir, from Old French noir, neir, from Latin niger, nigrum) are synonymous here.
- Typographical error, but just a little one: 86d [Smal sandwiches] SLIDERS. I honestly thought it was going to be some obscure Talmudic pun or something.
- Least favorite fill: 89a [Made of (suffix)] -INE. I suppose it’s better, or at least a change from [Key of (x classical music composition)], which in this case at least would have been easily gettable via crossings.
- 67d [Small flock] COVEY, 96a [Flightless flock] EMUS. 36a [Vacationing] AWAY, 79d [Temporary stays] SOJOURNS.
- Favorite clue: 82d [Cuckoo’s call?] HOUR.
In closing, here’s the composer’s “An Experiment in Terror”, as covered by Dave Brubeck’s son’s band Oranj Symphonette on their 1996 tribute album to Mancini.