Bruce Haight’s New York Times crossword
The central Down answer is a mythical BEANSTALK, 21d. [Storied locale for the circled letters in 8- and 65-Across]. A GIANT and JACK are hidden in GIANTS (… not much of a hiding), and JACK’s in HIJACK. Four other answers contain circled FEE, FI, FO, and FUM, forming the giant’s bizarre exclamation. JACK must climb from the bottom of the BEANSTALK to challenge the GIANT at the top, so those answers are placed logically. The FEE FI FO FUM bits are rather more haphazardly situated.
There’s no need to pay the slightest attention to the theme in order to complete the puzzle, and there only 28 theme squares (if you don’t count the uncircled letters in the quasi-thematic Acrosses), a very light presence. With the uncircled letters, it’s still a fairly modest 45.
What else is in here? This:
- 15a. [Largest country in Africa since the breakup of Sudan in 2011], ALGERIA. Yep, although you may occasionally encounter trivia bits that pretend Sudan is still huge. I did, just the other day.
31a. [New York Stock Exchange symbol], BULL. I’d have clued BULL another way, given that NYT is in the grid.
- 38a. [Wayward offspring, informally], BAD SEED. Favorite fill.
- 9d. [“Winnie ___ Pu”], ILLE. The Latin translation. How else are you gonna clue ILLE? (I know your answer: You’re going to avoid having it in your puzzle at all.)
- 29d. [“The Cosby Show” son], THEO. Pleased to see Malcolm-Jamal Warner on American Horror Story: Freak Show last week. Theo!
- 39d. [Bake in a sauce], ESCALLOP. “The over-tanned gentleman had escalloped in tanning oil.”
- 46d. [Violates the rules], ISN’T OK. About as good as a clue can be for this sort of iffy fill.
- 48d. [Puppeteer Tony], SARG. Sarg! Haven’t seen him in the puzzle in ages. And 54d. [___ avis], RARA! You too! (I didn’t miss either of them. And I’m a little surprised to see dual Latin RARA and ILLE in a Tuesday puzzle.)
- 62d. [Half-___ (low-octane drink order)], CAF. Short for caffeine, which is a word derived from the COFFEE in 1-Across.
3.33 stars from me. Rather more blah fill or crosswordese than I like to see in a Tuesday grid.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 186), “Reindeer Games”—Janie’s review
Here’s a fine holiday treat: a puzzle wrapped in a puzzle. The container puzzle would be the traditional crossword that we’re instructed to complete in order to solve the Word Search-style puzzle within. Why? Why, to recover Santa’s missing team of reindeer, of course!
First, the puzzle. Notice that the grid is larger than usual. Instead of being 15×15, this one is 15×16. I also smiled when I saw the pattern of the black squares. Those on the periphery make me think of antlers—a fine thing in a puzzle about reindeer. The fill is not much more than “okay” (MOSAIC is a lovely exception) but I’m happy to say there’s lot of lively cluing. Faves would have to include: the non-alcoholic [A bit of moon shine?] for BEAM, the non-Dr. Scholl’s [Shoe inserts?] for FEET, and [Apt-sounding Swiss river on International Talk Like A Pirate Day?] for the grid-friendly AARE. But no apparent themers of the across-or-down variety ever emerge. Can this really be Word Search?
Oh, yes! Ya gotta look diagonally—top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. Liz’s color-coded solution makes everything far clearer than any explanation I could (try to) write up. Pretty brilliant puzzle-within-a-puzzle, no? This feels like a seriously good payoff for the crossword itself. The challenge for the constructor, though, had to have been enormous. All eight of Santa’s (original) team placed diagonally within the confines of this grid. That presents real constraints (whence the vowel-heaviness of some of the fill). Took me forever to find poor DANCER. But there he is, in the SW corner, crossing teammate DASHER. And for balance, DONNER and VIXEN cross in the NE corner. BLITZEN and PRANCER make their descent in the west; and COMET and CUPID rise elegantly in the east. Impressive! As is this puzzle’s whole concept and execution.
I’m keepin’ it way brief today, but in closing, let me wish all of you who celebrate it a most happy Christmas indeed. And, from the blissfully skewed mind of constructor, solver and word-lover Barry Franklin (a/k/a Karma Sartre), his sassy take on a Clement Moore classic.
Thank you, Barry—and cheers, all!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Extended Family”
I’m not sure if I’m missing something with this theme:
- 17a. [Mix up the letters in a former “SNL” player’s last name?], ANAGRAM GASTEYER. Ana Gasteyer + gram, which is often short for “grandma,” so I gather we’re adding members of the extended family to people’s names … except the other four just add random blobs to form a new word. (GASTEYER anagrams to GREY TEAS or YES, GREAT.)
- 22a. [Pretentious name for the Jan Brady fan club?], EVER MORE PLUMB. Eve Plumb + … rmore?
- 35a. [Bizarre way an African dictator used to close his letters?], IDIOTICALLY, AMIN. Idi Amin + otically.
- 45a. [NBA player who grew up in Istanbul?], OTTOMAN PORTER. Boy, this one was hard for me to parse before I fully understood the formation of the theme answers, since I wasn’t sure which parts were the original name. Otto Porter sounds like a name from the 1930s but he’s a current young player.
- 50a. [Howl the surname of a theater great?], ULULATE GROSBARD. Ulu Grosbard is not much more of a household name than Otto Porter.
So the “family” in the title means nothing more than “group of people” here?
Three more things:
- 30a. [Swiss potato dish], ROSTI. I didn’t know that ROSTI was potatoes, but it’s the only 5-letter Swiss dish I know of.
- 33d. [Petrol amount], LITER. I went with the British spelling of LITRE first, given the Britishness of “petrol.”
- 10d. [“I know you ___ what am I?”], ARE, BUT. Six-letter partial that makes me think of Pee-Wee Herman. Pee-Wee fans, did you hear the good news? The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas special has been restored and is available on Netflix, along with all 45 episodes of Playhouse. Dramatic actors like Laurence Fishburne, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Jimmy Smits were all on it, before they became stars.
3.5 stars. The theme would have played better with all of the theme answers built from very famous people. Edited to add: Thanks to the commenters who pointed out that the first names that are built on are all palindromes, and they follow a vowel progression. Seems like an odd rationale to me, but your mileage may vary.
Gail Grabowski and Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Some people get depressed around the holidays, or during winter in general. Here’s a theme just for them!
- 21a. [Hitchhiked], BUMMED A RIDE. “Bummed” is also an adjective meaning “depressed.”
- 39a. [Aid in driving uphill], LOW GEAR.
- 57a. [At some future date], DOWN THE LINE.
- 3d. [Deplorably bad effort], SAD ATTEMPT. This one doesn’t feel fully like a lexical chunk unto itself.
- 30d. [Sharp-billed game fish], BLUE MARLIN.
Solid, with a few points off for 3d.
I am mystified by the choice to use 36d. [Foreign Legion cap], KEPI. Outside of French Foreign Legion circles, I suspect this word is best known among hardcore crossworders who’ve been solving for decades. In the NYT, Maleska and Weng used the word more than once a year; Shortz allows it about once every two years (most recently one week ago! and yes, I complained about the obscurity then, too). Here, it was chosen over the proper noun KERI crossing PEER. Actress Keri Russell is on a current show. Writer Keri Hulme won the Booker Prize for The Bone People. Singer Keri Hilson, main or featured artist on two #3 hits. With no tricky proper-name crossings, KERI wouldn’t have been too perplexing. Personally, I find pop culture more interesting than Hats From Around the World.
Another entry that used to appear a lot more often is ELAM, 7d. [Jack of old oaters]. Bleh. This can also be clued as an ancient Middle Eastern kingdom or a retired NFL placekicker. I tried tweaking this section of the grid to get rid of ELAM, but those interlocking 6s criss-crossing the themers make it tough.
3.5 stars from me.
Jeff Chen’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Poetry in Motion”—Ade’s write-up
Good afternoon, everyone! Two days until Christmas, and one day until I travel to San Diego and celebrate Christmas on the shores of the Pacific. (You can stop shooting daggers at me with your eyes now.) Today’s crossword puzzle, offered up to us by Mr. Jeff Chen, is, literally, a “moving tribute.” In it, the five theme answers all have the letters “ODE” in succession, and that letter sequence shifts to the right with each descending theme answer.
- ODESSA FILE: (20A: [With “The,” 1972 Frederick Forsyth thriller])
- GQ MODEL: (26A: [He’s a real poser])
- GOOD EGG: (40A: [Mensch])
- BO DEREK: (49A: [“Bolero” star]) – Do you prefer the braided or non-braided Bo Derek in terms of hairstyle?
- SECRET CODE: (58A: [Enigma output, e.g.])
Our constructor was in the Zoot suit mood for sure, with both HEP CATS (46D: [Zoot-suiters]) and LAPEL in the grid referencing the sartorial awesomeness that is the Zoot suit (52D: [Zoot suit feature]). Speaking of awesomeness with Zoot suits, here’s what I thought of as I was entering in those answers in. I’m sure you’ll appreciate it, especially if you’re a Tom and Jerry fan….
Elsewhere, was confused with DO OR DIE, not because I didn’t understand it, but because I had the final four letters filled in (—RDIE), and was struggling to make out a word that would describe the clue (44D: [Like a Hail Mary]). Turned out it was three words I had to make out. I’m pretty sure it was Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff back in the wrestling glory days of the mid-to-late ’80s whose signature finishing move while wrestling was the PILE DRIVER (11D: [WWE wrestling maneuver]). Loved the fill of MCMANSIONS, as that term is starting to catch steam with a lot of people nowadays (28D: [Enormous luxury houses, slangily]). Initially typed in “yes man” instead of KISS-UP, but figured that one out pretty quickly (48D: [Sycophant]). On the other hand, I kind of new GEOMETRY pretty quickly despite the possible mislead for that clue as well (41D: [Class teaching about planes]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: VLAD (2D: [____ the Impaler (inspiration for Dracula)]) – VLAD the Impaler is also the nickname for former Major League Baseball All-Star Vladimir Guerrero, who played 16 seasons in the bigs, most notable for the Montréal Expos and Anaheim Angels/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. One of the most all-around, naturally talented players to come into the majors, Guerrero was a nine-time All-Star and, in 2004, won the American League Most Valuable Player while with the Angels. Two years prior, as a member of the Expos, Guerrero was a home run away from reaching the exclusive 40/40 club, as he also had 40 stolen bases that season. He played right field for most of his career, but his last few seasons were spent mostly as a designated hitter, as the years of playing on the AstroTurf surface in Montréal robbed him of a lot of his speed and mobility. But, boy, could he ever hit!
See you all on Hump Day, and thank you so much for your time!