Tom McCoy’s New York Times crossword, “The Captain Goes Down With The Ship”
The theme answers here are the surname of famous captains, real and fictional, and the name of each one’s ship, squeezed together in Down entries without a conjunction as a literal representation of the phrase in the puzzle’s title. I didn’t particularly enjoy the theme (and McCoy has quickly become one of those constructors whose byline creates a frisson of anticipation, so I wonder if this is an earlier submission of his). Here are the cap’ns and their vessels:
- 2d. [Example from classic American literature], AHAB, PEQUOD. Moby Dick.
- 5d. [Example from television], KIRK, ENTERPRISE. Star Trek.
- 10d. [Example from sci-fi literature], NEMO, NAUTILUS. That Verne book.
- 14d. [Example from 18th-century history], BLIGH, BOUNTY. Mutiny!
- 52d. [Example from fantasy literature], HOOK, JOLLY ROGER. Peter Pan, yes?
- 60d. [Example from 20th-century history], SMITH, TITANIC. Smith? Not ringing a bell.
- 63d. [Example from advertising], CRUNCH, GUPPY. From the sugary cereal that can cut your hard palate. What makes you think he won’t cut you?
- 75d. [Metaphorical example from poetry], LINCOLN, USA. Whitman poem. Does the poem say “USA”? It does not seem to. Did people call it the USA in the 1860s?
That last one feels off, and it’s a strange note to end the theme on since all the other ships were real or fictional rather than metaphorical. Also, these are not all ships that went down, so the tie-in with the puzzle’s title is unsatisfying.
Five more things:
- 31a. [Sony video recorder], BETACAM. Bleh. Not a household object in recent decades.
- 42a. [7/11 product?], QUOTIENT. Now, that is a great clue.
- 100a. [Claymation dog], GROMIT. That’s lowercase claymation, as brand-name Claymation is not associated with Aardman Animation.
- 91d. [Much-vilified food], TWINKIE. Welcome fill in a crossword but not in my stomach.
- 98d. [Louse’s place, in Robert Burns’s “To a Louse”], BONNET. I misread that as “Louise’s place.” Anyone else?
Mostly ordinary fill, though largely outmoded PDAS and RESEE were among the things I’d rather not resee.
3.33 stars from me. I will still say “Ooh!” when I see the McCoy byline because I bet his next puzzle will be more elegant.
Kurt Krauss’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Seeing Stars”—Andy’s review
I’m back from ACPT, and I’ve made it my crossword goal for the year to do more crosswords on paper. I’m led to believe this will help me get faster at solving crosswords… on paper. We’ll see!
Anyway, I’m experimenting with the blog format again this week. (My last experiment, the video blog, was met with mixed reviews, but I am not deterred!) I’ve highlighted some entries in the grid image, at right. In orange are the theme entries; in pink are across entries that stood out to me; in blue are down entries that stood out to me. Already I hate this format. What I should have done is used blue for positive non-theme entries and pink for negative non-theme entries. On the other hand, if I’d done it that way, this puzzle wouldn’t have had much blue at all.
The theme formula was as follows:
- Take a two-part phrase*.
a. Part 1 of the phrase must be a synonym of “good.”
b. Part 2 must be a noun.
- Think of a different meaning of the noun in Part 2.
- Clue as [Five-star second meaning of noun?]
*For some loose definition of phrase.
- 23a, BEST SELLER [Five-star auctioneer?].
- 25a, MODEL TRAIN [Five-star bridal accessory?].
- 36a, GREAT PYRAMID [Five-star Ponzi scheme?].
- 46a, PRIME CUT [Five-star pageboy?].
- 65a, FIRST-CLASS CABIN [Five-star secluded getaway?].
- 83a, TOP BRASS [Five-star flugelhorns?].
- 93a, PERFECT PITCH [Five-star spiel?].
- 111a, IDEAL MATCH [Five-star competition?].
- 113a, SUPER VISOR [Five-star headgear?].
There are nice things to say about this puzzle, and I’m going to say them all now.
- There were nine theme answers. That is a lot of theme answers, even for a Sunday puzzle.
- The theme was executed fairly consistently. The theme entries all (more or less) follow the formula I described above.
- I liked “pageboy,” “flugelhorns,” and “spiel” in the theme clues.
- Much of the fill was absolutely fine.
Let’s go to the highlighted fill:
- 10a, ‘STRO [Houston ballplayer, for short]. I’m sure I’m guilty of having used this in a puzzle. I may have even said it aloud at some point when referring to the Houston-Baseball-Astros. But let us not confuse this with good fill. Not that Google is the arbiter of all things, but “STRO” Googles very poorly. A positive about ‘STRO: It was a gimme in a section which also had SAMP and OLERUD. Plus, if you like baseball, Leo “THE LIP” Durocher and John OLERUD were also in the top center.
- 22a, ENOLA [“Waterworld” orphan girl]. Yeesh. I’m usually all for trying to spice up stale crosswordese with new clues, but this seems like a stretch. Granted, I’ve never seen Waterworld (and may it forever stay that way), but even if Enola is the most prominent character in the movie (which, isn’t it Kevin Costner’s character, whose name is something like Mariner or Sea Dude or something? But let’s assume I’m wrong), still you’re asking us to produce the name of a character from a movie from 20 years ago that, notably, nobody saw. Quick, what’s the name of Isabelle Adjani’s character in Ishtar?
- 69a, CHRISTI [CNN news anchor ___ Paul]. Would’ve been unclear whether CHRISTI was a first or last name without the ___. As far as I can tell, Christi Paul is un-noteworthy other than having the crossword-friendly name CHRISTI. (And no, just because you get up at 6AM on a Saturday to watch her on the weekend edition of New Day doesn’t make her noteworthy. Nipping that one in the bud.) Maybe she’s an excellent newscaster. Call me when she’s on the weekday edition.
- 76a, ETHERIZE [Put under]. I’m torn. On the one hand, ETHERIZE is a great word. I think I’m going to start using it in the figurative sense, as in “This boring puzzle positively etherized me.” On the other hand, no licensed anesthetist has actually etherized anyone in figuratively forever. I’d have been on board with this if the clue had been something like [Put under, when Rutherford B. Hayes was President].
- 81a, ESEL [Deutschland donkey]. Haha, what? Was this puzzle unearthed from Eugene Maleska’s vault by Geraldo Rivera?
- 100a, DAN-O [Five-O booking agent]. I have never, not ever, seen “Book ’em, ___” spelled DANO. I’d like to believe the constructor submitted this with a clue like [Paul of “12 Years A Slave”] or, in the less-good-but-still-better-than-this alternative, [Linda of soaps].
- 117a, UNL [Like some phone nos.]. A great entry for Passover, since all bread must be unl. (Is there a University of Nebraska – Lincoln? I would take that over all versions of unlisted, unleadened, etc.)
- 119a, ENATE [Related maternally]. Never encountered this word outside of crosswords, but more legit than all preceding entries thus far.
- 120a, ENSE [Massachusetts motto opener]. 4-letter Latin words in state mottos that I can’t keep straight include: ENSE, ESSE, ESTO, and the occasional ALIS. Most of these have better clues, which is why I always guess ENSE first.
- 4d, LOTTO GAME [Pick 6, for one]. This doesn’t feel in the language at all the way “card game” does, for example. Pick 6 is a lottery, or a lotto. Right? I’d have liked TITLE GAME or MATCH GAME better here, and I strongly suspect the NW corner would have filled just fine with those letters.
- 42d/43d, ARNE/TIGE [“Alfred” composer/Buster Brown’s dog]. Discussing these together because, while neither is bad, they’re both crosswordese standards. ARNE might be more currently clued as Secretary of Education Duncan. This whole section felt like it could have been filled better. Like, I would have gladly taken SATAYS/PRIMECUT/ANNE/TOE (or TOT), with SPAT/ARNO/TINE (or TINT) coming down. That took me literally 5 seconds. Does anyone prefer the fill the way it is?
- 47d, UNISIZE [Fitting most people]. Neeeever seen/heard this in real life. “One size fits all” is the in-the-language phrase here.
- 79d, ARCHERIES [Bow-and-arrow sets]. Never seen this in the plural before, but it’s in the dictionary, so I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.
- 96d, TRIUNE [Godhead, for one]. I’m assuming both of these words refer to the Holy Trinity? Someone more well versed in Christianity should explain to me to what extent these phrases are actually used.
- 104d, SMOLT [Young salmon]. Is the plural of SMOLT John Smoltz? Seriously, though, I wanted this to be SMeLT crossing SUPERVISeR, but I knew that was the wrong spelling of SUPERVISOR, so I had to assume SMOLT was a real word in a crossword.
- 109d, AH ME [World-weary words]. Indeed.
[Five-star puzzle?], this was not. 2.75 stars. Here’s hoping next week is better!
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Crooked crossword, “First Ladies” — pannonica’s write-up
Punning takes on the first names of presidential spouses (historically all women, at this point).
- 23a. [George Washington?] THE MARTHA MARRIER (the more, the merrier).
- 34a. [Where Mrs. Pierce dined?] JANE RESTAURANT (chain …).
- 52a. [Mrs. Coolidge’s body type?] GRACE ANATOMY (Gray’s… or Grey’s… , depending on your referent).
- 70a. [Stand-in for Mrs. Madison?] DOLLEY DOUBLE (daily …).
- 85a. [Fur worn by Mrs. Kennedy?] JACQUELINE HIDE (Jekyll-and-Hyde).
- 101a. [Square dance call for the Hayes and Buchanan First Ladies?] SWING LUCY HARRIET (Swing Low, Sweet Chariot). This one took me a moment-and-a-half to uncover.
- 16d. [Boutique for Mrs. Bush?] BARBARA SHOP (barber …). Following clue gives us a [Bush with thorns] BRIAR.
- 60d. [Where Mrs. Ford got her hair done?] BETTY PARLOR (beauty …).
Standard pun caveat applies.
Most notable impression aside from the theme was that of the cross-references. Though I appreciate so-called cluechoes and outright repetition of clues, affinities between and among answers, and so forth, I generally find cross-references—especially nonessential ones—tedious more than anything else. This crossword seemed to contain an abundance. TEAPOT linked to POUR, a COAT of PAINT, CYNDI Lauper’s “SHE Bop”, HAHA v LOL, a PUEBLO constructed of ADOBE, an ATTY addressing JURIES. And yet, somehow, YEATS sedately remains EIRE-free, not to mention other possible linkages. It all feels paradoxically both excessive and insufficient, with an arbitrary cap. (63a/38a, 54d/67a, 45a/50a, 2d/49d, 67d/29d, 99d/85d; 18d/40a)
- Have very recently seen both 58d [Quarterback Bernie] KOSAR and 96a [Foxy-tasting grape] CATAWBA in other crosswords, perhaps a single one. Perhaps it was today, or yesterday. Both times I wanted the grape to be CONCORD.
- 77a [Puts a hex on] CURSES.
- Interesting cluing choices that I appreciated: 107a [Davis of “Bubba Ho-tep”] [sic] OSSIE, 48d [Rush or Redding] OTIS, 22a [Lunar “sea”] MARE, 41d [Garnish for pho] LIME.
- YEATS above YEAST. (18d, 43d)
- Very pleasing, that top-left corner, with WHISK, SAMOVAR, SIMOLEON, KNAVERY. Top-drawer.
Good crossword, about average.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “The Silence of the Lampreys”–Sam Donaldson’s review
If this week’s puzzle from Merl Reagle has you thinking deja vu, perhaps it’s because this was Puzzle #3 at the 2014 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (The 19×19 grid would be a tip, because Merl’s puzzles are usually 21×21 and the ACPT uses 19×19 grids for the third and sixth puzzles at the tournament.) Depending on your feelings about eels, perhaps the sensation was closer to deja eww.
The theme requires dropping an “eel” sound from an otherwise familiar term to get wacky new terms that are clued accordingly. See for yourself:
- Felix the Cat becomes FIX THE CAT, clued as a [Way to avoid kittens?]. Merl Reagle, ladies and gentlemen.
- Wheeling, West Virginia becomes WING, WEST VIRGINIA, clued as the [Sister city of Thigh, New York?].
- A court of appeals becomes a COURT OF APPS, [Where some download lawsuits are settled?] might be called a FRESH BROOD (from “fresh-brewed”).
- A car dealership becomes DER SHIP, clued as the [Sequel to “Das Boot”?]. It’s weird, but it’s one of my favorites in the group.
- The real thing, a former Coca-Cola slogan, becomes THE R THING, a good description of [What appears between “Toys” and “Us”?].
- Now this one’s tricky (or should I say “slippery?”): Ryan O’Neal becomes just RYAN OWN, clued as [Q: “So, Tarzan, does the movie actor rent his tuxedo?” A: “No, ___”]. That’s the second consecutive puzzle to use a Tarzan-broken-English clue for a theme entry. Can Merl keep the streak alive next week? Tune in next week to find out!
- Caught stealing becomes CAUGHT STING, clued as [Saw a rock star in concert?].
- My favorite 1970s band, The Captain and Tennille, becomes THE CAPTAIN AND TEN, or [All 11 members of a football team?].
- Lucille Ball becomes just a LOOSE BALL, clued as [It’s out of LeBron’s hands?]. Now here’s a problem: every other theme entry is wacky–it’s not a real term. But there really is such a thing as “loose ball” in basketball–it refers to a moment in play when neither team has possession of the ball. Pairing a legit term with eight wacky terms makes for a jarring inconsistency. Not the best way to end the recitation of theme entries, but there it is.
In the comfort of my normal solving surroundings, I finished in the 15th minute. Assuming this was a 30-minute puzzle at the ACPT, that would be good for 1,725 points (10 points for each of the 120 answers, plus 150 points for a grid with no errors, plus 25 points for each of the 15 full minutes remaining on the clock). At the tournament, though, I scored 1,430 points (295 points lower). That means either I made one error and took four minutes longer to solve at the tournament or, more likely, made multiple errors while trying to solve too quickly. I’m happy to have a better score now, but it’s not exactly the fairest comparison since I remembered the theme after getting the first theme entry in place.
I’m pretty sure the things that tripped me up last year were the same things that had me vexed this time. Here are my picks for the five trickiest answers that will give solvers the most problems with this puzzle:
- 5. THALIA is the [Muse of comedy] who crosses the “you either know it or you don’t” STEVIA sweetener made (in)famous from Breaking Bad and the [Copter forerunner], the GIRO. If you don’t know your muses and want to spell giro like a Greek sandwich, this entry will give you fits.
- 4. (tie) STARR is the correct answer to [Eldest of the Fab Four], not RINGO as I’m sure many folks tried. Likewise, the [Fastidious TV character] is UNGER, not FELIX.
- 3. The weird letter combination that answers [With “ology,” the study of dreams] is ONEIR. If you have dreams of ONEIR in your crosswords, you’re probably awakening in a pool of cold sweat.
- 2. SI NEWHOUSE is the [Billionaire publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair]. I can’t be the only one who parsed that as SINEW HOUSE and then wondered whether Merl was trying to make some pun about eels being sinewy when, really, they aren’t. Right? Well, maybe I can. Anyway, it appears “Si” is derived from the initials of his first and middle names: Samuel Irving. Classy first name.
- 1. The one eel pun in the grid might be the hardest to suss out. The answer to [“___ Have Left the Building” (an alternative title for this puzzle)] is ELVERS. I’ll let Wikipedia tell you more: Eels begin life as flat and transparent larvae, or leptocephali. Eel larvae drift in the surface waters of the sea, feeding on marine snow, small particles that float in the water. Eel larvae then metamorphose into glass eels and then become elvers before finally seeking out their juvenile and adult habitats. Freshwater elvers travel upstream and are forced to climb up obstructions, such as weirs, dam walls, and natural waterfalls. Lady Colin Campbell found, at Ballisodare, the eel fisheries were greatly improved by the hanging of loosely plaited grass ladders over barriers, enabling the elvers to ascend. Okay, that’s enough imagery for one blog post.
Favorite entry = ARMHOLES, key [Vest features] that distinguish it from a straightjacket. Favorite clue = [Had a roll in the hay?] for ATE.
Bob Klahn’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good day, everyone! Sorry for the late post, but just have to do a quick little review today since I’m in Tampa for the Women’s Final Four (college basketball).
Well, if you like your Sunday Challenges to be a real challenge, there’s nothing like seeing Mr. Bob Klahn’s name on the byline. Today was no different, and it didn’t help that I thought of sports for the first clue going down, first putting in Irish instead of TRUCE (1D: [Fighting finish]). Though putting up my usually snail-like time with a Klahn puzzle, the only real, real hangup was the intersection of DIATONIC (34D: [Scale whose pitches can be obtained using a chain of six perfect fifths]) and DANDELION WINE (34A: [1957 Ray Bradbury title that serves as a metaphor for packing all of the joys of summer into a single bottle]). Reading the lengthy clues was enough to say uncle and just move on to another clue…which I did do. Eventually got the ‘wine’ part of that, and was just stumped for a while as to what the first part of it was. Again, wish I can spend more time talking about the grid, but I have to head to the basketball court right now, so here’s the “sports” moment.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: HENRY (2D: [Dr. Jekyll’s first name])– Good thing that answer was a given for me. Can’t spend any real time on this, but just know that Thierry HENRY (pronounced awn-REE) is one of the greatest soccer players of all time, known for his goal-scoring prowess for the English Premier League team Arsenal as well as the French National Team. He just finished a stint playing in Major League Soccer, starring for the New York Red Bulls.
Have a good rest of your weekend, and thank you for your time – albeit brief!
Take care, all!