Sunday, December 21, 2014

NYT 8:26 (Amy) 
Reagle 7:12 (Amy) 
LAT 7:12 (Amy) 
Hex/Hook 11:50 (pannonica) 
WaPo 14:27 (Sam) 
CS 15:19 (Ade) 

Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Puzzling 101”

Merl Reagle crossword solution, 12 21 14 "Puzzling 101"

Merl Reagle crossword solution, 12 21 14 “Puzzling 101”

It’s the crossword’s 101st birthday, so “Puzzling 101” refers to both an introductory course, such as is provided by the theme answers, and the 101 years. Assorted phrases are redefined in a crossword context:

  • 23a. [Where this answer intersects with 1 Down, for example?], BORDER CROSSING.
  • 32a. [Where the clues are?], BY THE NUMBERS.
  • 49a. [Like crosswords with no tricky clues?], FAIR AND SQUARE.
  • 65a. [Basic design of a crossword diagram?], LETTERBOX FORMAT.
  • 85a. [What crosswords are usually printed in?], BLACK AND WHITE.
  • 100a. [Like a crossword that’s only half made?], WITHOUT A CLUE.
  • 116a. [Make crosswords as a career?], LIVE OFF THE GRID. This is what Merl does.

It’s not typical for Merl to include just seven theme entries. Just how many familiar phrases of 12 to 15 words are there that can be clued as if they pertain to crosswords? Crossing, numbers, square, letters in boxes, black and white, clues, grid—all that’s left is the more arcane, insidery terms like “checking” and “cheaters” that could be applied to the theme but would perplex most solvers.

The upside of a lighter theme is that there’s more wiggle room for the fill, which is relatively smooth. There were a couple names I relied heavily on crossings for:

  • 82a. Pioneer in electromagnetism], OERSTED.
  • 97d. Film director Margarethe von ___], TROTTA. This one, plus the nonspecific clue for 107d. BEERS, [Case load?] and the 118d. [Govt. property org.] GSA, conspired to slow down my finish.

I do wish that 100d. WORDS ([What arguers exchange]) had been left on the editing room floor, given the number of clues with “crossword” (five themers), “worded” (121a), or “word” (46d) in them. 50d: NEST IN feels a little weird, the DDE monogram didn’t need to be joined by RWR, and nobody’s excited to find an 17d: E TILE in the crossword.

Three more things:

  • 111d. [Number of e’s in Beethoven?], DREI. Not sure that a question mark suggests “in German,” but I enjoyed the clue.
  • 11d. [Hilarious], A RIOT. This works in straight substition—”she’s hilarious” = “she’s a riot”—but adjective ≠ noun, so the standard “clues and answers are the same part of speech” rule is deviated from here.
  • 89d. [Ruffians], MAULERS. A bit of a roll-your-own word when it comes to common nouns. Who uses this? The word seems to get some traffic in team names (sub-NHL hockey, roller derby, the old USFL), but none of the teams are quite famous enough for a puzzle clue.

Four stars from me.

Joel Fagliano’s New York Times crossword, “Season’s Greetings”

NY Times crossword solution, 12 21 14 "Season's Greetings"

NY Times crossword solution, 12 21 14 “Season’s Greetings”

Santa’s standard greeting is “Ho, ho, ho!” Joel’s appended a HO to various phrases and words, making new combos:

  • 22a. [Homer that leaves people yawning?], HO-HUM DINGER. A humdinger is a home run.
  • 24a. [“Shucks!” or “Pshaw!”?], HOKEY WORD. Nice!
  • 42a. [Southwest tribe after a fistfight?], BLACK-EYED HOPIS. First spelling change, from peas to -pis.
  • 67a. [Backstabbing pal?], DESPICABLE HOMIE. Despicable Me is an animated movie.
  • 91a. [Barn dance that’s free to attend?], NO-MONEY HOEDOWN. This one adds HOE rather than HO, which is in the debit column, but then turning “no money down” into any sort of HOEDOWN is kinda fun.
  • 114a. [Vagrant after getting kicked off a train, say?], CROSS HOBO. Crossbow.
  • 117a. [Stuff your dad finds ridiculous?], HOKUM TO PAPA. “Come to Papa,” another spelling change. Might’ve been nice to open the grid with this one and set the stage for the spelling changes to follow. Perhaps Joel tried that and the resulting fill was worse?

Lots of juicy Faglianoesque fill here. BAR SCENE and WINE LABEL stacked on a theme answer, “OOH! OOH!,” GOES GREEN, KID GLOVES, ORANGE SODA, TIM COOK, YOGA POSE, a siny new POT SHOP, O-TOWN, SOY LATTE, NANCY PELOSI, a HONEY LOCUST tree, and EBOLA VIRUS? Good stuff, and very little bad stuff.

Four more things:

  • 50d. [Computerdom, informally], INFOTECH. Am I the only one who needed a zillion crossings to get this?
  • 12d. [World capital once conquered by Augustus], ANKARA. Did you know the city’s previous name was Angora, and that angora cats, goats, and rabbits hail from there? I learned that quite recently.
  • 8d. [I will follow it], EFGH. Okay! This one is the worst answer in the whole puzzle, worse than ISERE.
  • 55d. [Composer whose name is an anagram of SANTA + ME], SMETANA. Weird clue, but I guess it was chosen because it gets SANTA Claus an indirect shout-out.

4.25 stars from me.

Todd McClary’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 246”–Sam Donaldson’s review

The Post Puzzler No. 246 (solution)

The Post Puzzler No. 246 (solution)

Including this week’s 66/24 crossword from Todd McClary, it appears we have just 15 more Post Puzzlers to savor. Sigh. I really hope that somehow the Post Puzzler continues–quality freestyle puzzles like this one deserve a regular home. I have this fantasy that someone like Frank Longo or Patrick Berry or Trip Payne will be asked to succeed Peter Gordon as editor. Okay, “fantasy” probably isn’t the right word, for fantasies rarely live up to the hype when played out in real life. But you get the point.

For now, I suppose, all we can do is savor what’s before us. This week’s puzzle has lots of cool entries. It also had some unfamiliar (for me) names and vocabulary that made for a harder solve, but I still found myself satisfied when everything fell.

Logically enough, I began in the northwest. I had a feeling that BEER CHASER was the answer to [Shot accompaniment, perhaps], but I didn’t trust myself to type it in until I had a few crossings in place. Like many solvers (I’m guessing), I thought of ERIN MORAN and SCOTT BAIO for the [“Joanie Loves Chachi” co-star], but those 9-letter names were too short for this 10-letter answer. Luckily, a few more crossings let me see AL MOLINARO, who played Al Delvecchio on this and ‘Happy Days.” Yep, yep, yep. Confession: my first guess was AL MARINARO, which really slowed me down on the crossing ROMAN MILE ([Ancient unit based on a thousand marching paces]) and CLAUSES ([They may be dependent]).

That diagonal wall of squares isolating the northwest meant I had to journey either to the northeast or southwest. Given I had the starting letters to the triple-stack up top, heading to the northeast was an easy choice. For some reason I wanted the [Breakfast order] to begin with OPEN-FACED or OMELET, but it was the much-more-straightforward ORANGE JUICE. Underneath, POLAR VORTEX, the [Cold weather phenomenon], is a terrific entry, but since I knew not that RODMEN were [Surveyors’ assistants] instead of [NBA rebounding legend Dennis, et al], nor that there’s a signaling device called an ALDIS lamp, it took a long time to find the vortex. Then, underneath that sits EDDIE ALBERT. Now I know him from “Green Acres.” But I didn’t know he was an [Oscar nominee for “The Heartbreak Kid”]. So yeah, that corner wasn’t exactly easy. (Speaking of the northeast corner, I loved the clue for Michael CERA, [Pilgrim portrayer in a 2010 film]. The film has nothing to do with Plymouth Rock or Thanksgiving–it’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”)

Next came the skinny midsection, a stair-stepped arrangement of five-letter answers made more complicated by their feeding into longer Downs. I thought my toeholds into [Outlet for a drill?] were questionable, since it looked like this: ?IREE???. Luckily I quickly sussed this out as a two word answer, FIRE EXIT. (Great clue!) I’ve never heard of BLOATWARE, clued as [Oversize computer applications, informally], but it was the only thing that made the grid work, so I didn’t question it much.

Over in the southeast, my eye went straight to the starting X for [Craftperson’s edge]. XPERTISE couldn’t be right, and there are not many terms with 10 letters that start with such a rare letter. I tried X-ACTO KNIFE, which is the term I always heard for the tool. Turned out the answer was X-ACTO BLADE, but that didn’t prove too tricky.

The southwest was the last destination, and it may well have been the trickiest. MIRANDA OTTO, the [Eowyn portrayer in two “Lord of the Rings” installments], was totally foreign to me, and that letter string of *DAOTT* really undermined my confidence. It didn’t help that I had SEAL as the [Aquarium performer] instead of ORCA and ME TOO instead of DITTO as the answer to [“Same here”].

Other items of note:

  • [Overseas brewing practice] had me thinking of sake and beer, so TEA CEREMONY took a while to fall.
  • S.E. HINTON was another foreign name to me. I didn’t know she was the [Author of “The Outsiders”], much less that she wrote it in high school. I wrote a haiku in high school. So that’s one thing we have in common.
  • Wonder what film had the [Movie pizzeria with a Wall of Fame featuring Italian-Americans]? It was “Do the Right Thing,” and the pizza joint was SAL’S.
  • [Stress lines?] is a fun clue for EMOTE.

Favorite entry = WRIST SLAP, the [Minor penalty]. Favorite clue = [Life may not offer it] for PAROLE.

Tony Orbach’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge crossword solution, 12.21.14

CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge crossword solution, 12.21.14

Hello everyone, and a Happy Sunday to you all!  It’s the last Sunday before Christmas, so hopefully you got all your holiday shopping done!

Our super-talented, all-around nice guy, Mr. Tony Orbach, is responsible for the Sunday Challenge crossword, and it was another fun offering with great fill. I’ve heard a lot of good things about PENNY DREADFUL, and knowing that Timothy Dalton, someone whom I really appreciated in his two appearances as James Bond back in the day, is in the series makes me want give the show a whirl (23A: [Showtime horror series with Timothy Dalton]). Love the two 15-letter entries going down, BATTLE OF BRITAIN (12D: [More formal name of The Blitz]) and OUT ON THE OPEN SEA, something I would love to get to do more often as long as it’s a transatlantic flight and not a cruise (3D: [Amid a transatlantic passage, say]). Just found out recently that I get a little bit of motion sickness when I am at sea on a boat. This grid gets more points from me given the multiple entries that involve African geography, KENYA (8D: [African setting of John le Carré’s “The Constant Gardener”]) and RABAT (38A: [Capital of Morocco]). In a bit of somewhat coincidence (and mostly blogger inanity), I found it funny to see SEAT BELTS (63A: [Safety devices that became mandatory in cars starting in 1968]) in the same grid as NADIR, since it was another crossword entry favorite, nadir homophone Ralph Nader, who was so influential in making American cars much safer in the 1960s with his lobbying and reporting on shady American car makers (45A: [The absolute pits])

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SINGLETON (18A: [Director John of “Boyz N the Hood” and “2 Fast 2 Furious”])– Former Major League baseball Ken Singleton is currently a play-by-play broadcaster and game analyst on the YES Network, the New York Yankees cable channel. As a player, mostly for the Baltimore Orioles, Singleton was one of the biggest power threats in the American League. In 1977, Singleton finished third in the AL MVP voting, and in 1979, he finished second as he hit a career-high 35 home runs and also had a career-high with 111 runs batted in. In that 1979 season, the Orioles made the World Series but lost in seven games to the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates.

See you all on Monday, and thanks for much for another week of crosswords! See you tomorrow!

Take care!


Mike Peluso’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “It’s a Start”

LA Times Sunday crossword solution, 12 21 14 "It's a Start"

LA Times Sunday crossword solution, 12 21 14 “It’s a Start”

Each theme entry began as a familiar phrase or compound word. The start of each one’s final word/component becomes “a start,” with a schwa sound added and a consonant doubled to form a new word:

  • 25a. [Speech at a revival?], TENT ADDRESS.
  • 27a. [Variety of stars on a clear night?], COSMIC ARRAY.
  • 56a. [Only matchmaker in town?], LONE ARRANGER. Can’t say that I call a matchmaker an “arranger,” even if they arrange blind dates.
  • 83a. [Approval from above?], HEAVEN ASSENT.
  • 114a. [St. Louis tourist?], ARCH ARRIVAL.
  • 119a. [Rap sheet listing?], BACK ARRESTS.
  • 36d. [Ambush during a “wrestling” match?], THUMB ATTACK. Thumb wrestling, that is. This one’s pretty cute.
  • 41d. [Extra clothes?], SPARE ATTIRE.

The theme is well-constructed, with a consistency in format (A + doubled letter) and sound (schwa, not short A—ADDRESS can hold a short A, but I think when talking about oratory, the schwa pronunciation tends to hold steady).

VOICEMAIL, SQUEAKER, MINI ME, and AY CARAMBA are nice additions to the grid. More noticeable, though, were the little crosswordese bits that sneaked in:

  • 19a. [Russian city near the Ukraine border], OREL.
  • 32a. [Protected whale], SEI.
  • 71a. [More, on a score], PIU.
  • 77a. [Hush-hush maritime org.], ONI. Office of Naval Intelligence.
  • 87a. [Aleutian island], ATKA.
  • O’-THE, APOS, ESA, SMEE, ELKO, NOBIS, OSSO … Nothing I haven’t seen in my decades of puzzling, but nothing I look forward to seeing either.

3.5 stars from this solver.

Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “No Middle Names” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 12/21/14 • "No Middle Names" • Hook • hex/hook, bg •  solution

CRooked • 12/21/14 • “No Middle Names” • Hook • hex/hook, bg • solution

Dove right into this one with a wrong answer at 1-across. [Red River city], five letters? Got to be HANOI. >bzzzt!< FARGO. Fortunately, things soon improved during my solve.

The theme here is based on the notion of linking up people’s names to form chains, for which it’s useful to have an arsenal of both individuals with first names that are more commonly surnames, and surnames that are commonly first names. The theme answers are derived from minimal chains of three, with the intermediary name omitted. And now I’m quite certain I’ve explained the theme in the most opaque, confusing manner possible. Onward!

  • 22a. [President; R&B singer] WOODROW PICKETT. Who? That’s Woodrow Wilson and Wilson Picket → Woodrow Wilson Pickett → Woodrow Pickett → wicket. Oh whoops, overshot the mark there. Anyway, see how it works?
  • 24a. [Actress; telejournalist] PAMELA {ANDERSON} COOPER.
  • 42a. [Orator; orator] PATRICK {HENRY} CLAY.
  • 58a. [Senator; talk-show host] LINDSEY {GRAHAM} NORTON.
  • 76a. [Emmy-winning host; actor] STEVE {HARVEY} KEITEL.
  • 94a. [Jazz great; country great] EUBIE {BLAKE} SHELTON. Directly below, at 104a: [Superstars] GREATS. Oh, come on.
  • 97a. [Lyricist; illusionist] HAL {DAVID} COPPERFIELD. I guess we’re sticking with real people, hence the magician guy ( David Kotkin) and not his Dickensian namesake.
  • 30d. [Composer; country legend] COLE {PORTER} WAGONER.
  • 40d. [Chief justice; tycoon] EARL {WARREN} BUFFETT.
  • 42d. [Grammy-winning maestro; singer] PERCY {FAITH} HILL.

Ten themers, a sizable amount. Alas, just two of the twenty individuals invoked are female, and without thinking too much about it I suspect that it has much to do with the nature of names available and not on any oversight—intentional or not—on the part of the constructor. Yep, I blame the Patriarchy-Nomenclatural complex. In any event, this is a type wordplay that I really get a kick out of, so of course I found it entertaining and enjoyable.

Just for the hell of it, here are the personal names of the ballast fill: MARIUS Pontmercy; Stacy LONDON; William SHATNER; Ramon BIERI; FERENC Molnár; GIDEON Dershowitz; Eydie GORMÉ; James Whitcomb RILEY(S); Harold HOOPER; Deborah KERR; Paul ANKA; AYN Rand; Neal SCHON; PHILO Vance; KAREN Grassle; NENE Leakes; ALTON Brown; JIMI Hendrix (clued with explicit reference to his forename); Jefferson Davis HOGG.

  • I held up my nose and looked askance as I filled in ALL A’S for 26a [Ideal report card?]. But it was even worse: AAAAAAaaaaaaah! Add to this the atrocious 94d [D-I link] EFGH and I get all gnashy. Kind of see also, 72a [Encoded A’s] ALFAS.
  • 11d [Epic] ILIADIC, 93a [Abdominal ailment] ILEUS.
  • 31d [Rhett’s last words] … A DAMN, which is Southernese for ADIEU (right, Bencoe)?
  • 8d [Chilean chain] ANDES. They have franchise shops everywhere down there, and the only thing they sell are those little after-dinner mints.
  • 71d [“Coup d’etat” group] JUNTA. Haven’t mentioned in a while how much the printed version italics → .puz version quotation marks transcribing policy of the CRooked crossword irks me, so consider me duly irked.
  • nana-the-dog-peter-pan-cut-out-postcard-mack-097-toy-town2The crossword canine triumvirate (almost), clustered together: 80a [1939 role for Terry] TOTO, 89a [“The Thin Man” pooch] ASTA, and 81a [Babysitters, often] NANAS.
  • 29a [“Turn! Turn! Turn!” band] BYRDS. Clue needs a “, with ‘The'”.
  • Favorite clue: 21a [Key rings?] ATOLLS. Somewhat diminished by the duplication at 45d [Indispensable] KEY. Second-favorite clue: 87d [It’s a small world] GLOBE.
  • 60d [Table scraps] ORTS. Factoid: All table scraps originate in a region beyond our solar system called the Ort Cloud; quantum digestion explains how they arrive in our kitchens and dining rooms.
  • 88d [Super Mario’s brother] LUIGI. Is Luigi also Super Luigi, or just plain old Luigi? Don’t they both do all the same things?
  • Least favorite fill: 19d [They aren’t going steady] SWAYERS. There is some additional lesser fill, and some relative obscurities, but no need to list them.
  • 61a [Leipzig lang.] GER. See also 91d [Linzer or Sacher] TORTE, and 37-down.

Fun crossword, much to this solver’s liking.

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14 Responses to Sunday, December 21, 2014

  1. Gary R says:

    I don’t recall ever hearing a home run called a HUMDINGER – only a DINGER. But the theme doesn’t require that anyway, since we’re just adding HO to a familiar word or phrase, and humdinger qualifies.

  2. Avg Solvr says:

    HOKUM TO PAPA was worth the price of admission. Post Puzzler was good.

  3. Matt says:

    A little harder than the average Sunday NYT, got a bit stuck in the upper right corner. Also, I thought EFGH was cute and original.

  4. HH says:

    “HOKUM TO PAPA. “Come to Papa,” another spelling change. Might’ve been nice to open the grid with this one and set the stage for the spelling changes to follow.”

    Better as is. Ask any standup comic — you should never lead with your A material.

  5. Brucenm says:

    Loved the [NYT] puzzle, but to me, the worst answer was neither of the above, but rather ‘oohooh’.

  6. x word fan says:

    Washington Post:

    really solid puzzle, I learned ALDIS lamp = signal lamp.
    3 of the 4 long perimeter answers include a beverage. only 29d.THE DEEP END breaks the pattern

  7. Garrett says:

    On The Post Puzzler No. 246, I did not understand ALIF for [Arab leader]. What is it — Arabic for the letter A?

  8. David S says:

    I found Fagliano’s NYT puzzle much harder than average; I barely solved the entire right side (tho I did manage DESPICABLE HOMEY, which he had as HOMIE, so that didn’t fill me with bonhomie).

    I did like the EFGH clue, and a long string like that is DEFINITELY better than ISERE or some other crosswordese. We all know the alphabet, but who knows Isere?

    I did enjoy the part of the puzzle I was able to solve. I just think it was a bit too difficult for the average solver.

  9. pannonica says:

    In case anyone is still wondering, the gentlemen depicted in my diptych are author Henry James (1843–1916) and composer James Hook (1746–1827).

Comments are closed.