James Mulhern’s New York Times crossword
Lots of juicy fill in this puzzle. Look at that top stack with LOBSTER BIB, the ANIMANIACS cartoon, and “MONEY TALKS.” While I frown at the clue for 1a, [Tie one on at dinner]—”one” doesn’t typically work this way in clues—and I also scowl at the ON ONE, SMEE, RIATA, and BSS crossings, I appreciate a showy stack in the northwest corner. I also like SHELL GAME, full names for TAYLOR SWIFT and ERIC BANA, the ridiculous infomercial SHAMWOW, WHAC-A-MOLE beside HARRUMPHS, MACHINE WASH, and the BAHA MEN. At the bottom is another good Across stack, EATEN ALIVE by mosquitoes/THE INSIDER/CARTWHEELS—but this one’s crossings are much smoother.
Seven more things:
- 20a. [“The ___ Bridge Disaster” (McGonagall poem)], TAY. All crossings for me. If you don’t know your crosswordese or your poetry, that T from RIATA might kill you.
- 11a. [Online heads-up], NSFW. Means “not safe for work,” meaning “if you’re sitting at your desk, don’t let your colleagues or boss catch you looking at this.”
- 18a. [Role for Ferrell on “S.N.L.”], RENO. The folks who don’t know the context here are missing out—Will Ferrell famously portrayed U.S. attorney general Janet Reno hosting dance parties.
- 23a. [It’s found on the toe of a boot], OMAN. The boot being the Arabian Peninsula.
- 28a. [Bolivian export], COCA. Coke: It’s not just from Colombia anymore.
- 38a. [Ones pulling strings?], HARPISTS. My cousin Heather plays the harp.
- 5d. [Singer/songwriter whose name anagrams to ART OF SLY WIT], TAYLOR SWIFT. I am not aware that she is really known for her sly wit, but there may be some of that in her songwriting. But I always like a good anagram clue—they’re best when veiled. Ooh! The Cruciverb puzzle database page of ANAGRAM clues is great. [Ancients, for instance], Shenk. [Chemical agent for climate change], Gamache/Shortz. [Sensation for Estonians?], Tracey/Gordon. [Horrid glances from Charles Grodin?], Merrell/Shortz. Delicious!
4.1 stars from me for this puzzle with all the zippy stuff.
Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I took a break from the Saturday Stumper (where I’m stumped in the northeast corner) to tackle the LAT. Imagine my surprise when the LAT took me longer than the NYT! That’s a rare thing. This 70-worder has some nice stuff interspersed with some awkward stuff and crosswordese.
What I liked best: THE POLICE, BOXED SETS, KNEE BRACE, and the BEWITCHING/STAN LAUREL/TARGET DATE stack.
- 15a. [School acronym], EL-HI. Questionable because crossword constructors use this term far, far more than the education community.
- 18a. [Specialty brokers], LAND AGENTS. No idea what this means.
- 53a. [Kyrgyzstan border range], ALAI. Whether it’s the mountains or part of jai alai, crosswordese that most people aren’t encountering in their conversations and reading.
- Crosswordese: LOD, EDA, ALETA in particular.
- 12d. [Like some brick walls], VINED. Is that an adjective? Is “vine” a verb? IVIED has better dictionary support.
- 32d. [They go with chips], SALSA DIPS. In my circles, they’re just salsas and “salsa dip” is the sort of thing you’d say if you thought salsa was some newfangled ethnic thing rather than a very ordinary spicy dip.
Never heard of 17a. [MSNBC anchor Wagner], ALEX, or 24d. [“Angry” adversary in Enid Blyton’s “Faraway Tree” series], PIXIE. Tough clues for me.
3.4 stars from me. Definitely better than TWO-STAR!
Frank Longo’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
I rarely ever use the “check” function in Black Ink (a Mac-only alternative to Across Lite). Typically it’s when I’ve completed a rebus puzzle and I’m pretty sure it’s correct but the software doesn’t congratulate me—and it marks a red X on only the rebus squares as I’ve entered them, and I move on with my life because my solution’s correct even if the editor set the puzzle up to accept only the first letter in a rebus square. I used the “check” function in desperation in this puzzle, having spent over 14 minutes on the puzzle but still having the northeast corner woefully blank. Though I eventually finished up, it wasn’t a satisfying solve. Here’s what bugged me:
- 20a. [Gut course?], PHYS ED. Why the hell isn’t there any sort of cue that the answer is shortened?
- 13d. [Latex-glove extra], ALOE. Yes, such gloves exist. If you don’t buy latex gloves by the box, how on earth would you know that aloe on the inside was an option? Never heard of that before.
- 14d. [Was effective], TOLD. Not seeing the connection here. Anyone?
- 18a. [Avoiding an engagement, maybe], AWOL. Back in the day when Newsday clues were added to the Cruciverb database, there was usually an abbreviation cue in the clue. Other venues have dispensed with such cues in more recent years.
- 12d. [Big storms, for instance], NEWSMAKERS. When you provide just one nonspecific example of a thing, it’s not very gettable.
I had PHLOEM and GREAT DANE, and KEY PLAYER and HOTEL, but that 4×4 chunk in the corner was absolutely vacant for so long. Ouch!
Clues and answers of note:
- 21d. [Familiar Bible setting], HOTEL. In the nightstand drawer. You wanted a biblical place name, didn’t you?
- 15a. [”Schindler’s List” character], APOSTROPHE. Totally tricked me.
- 40a. [How sunglasses may be bought], RED-TINTED. Really? Apparently yes. News to me.
- 57a. [Small-scale school], EELS. So … eels have smaller scales than finned fish, then?
- 26d. [Bolted-down tubes], PENNE. Cute. Didn’t trick me, though.
- 41d. [Expression preceding a send-up?], T MINUS. As in “T minus 10, 9, 8 …” before a rocket launch.
- 53d. [Product tag], -IVE. “Tag” is a horrible way to signal a word ending.
3.5 stars from me. There wasn’t a lot of juicy fill (LEO TOLSTOY and LAST DETAIL stood out faintly) and I found the cluing more annoyingly off-base than delightfully tricky.