David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword
This 16-square-wide grid features two triple-stacks plus a single 16 in the middle (no more 3/3/3 stacks in the NYT, you may recall—but 3/1/3 still fair game). Most of the 16s are lively, none includes a ONE’S, and—as you might expect—a goodly number of the crossings are clunky little things.
- 18a. [Provider of an A in English?], THE SCARLET LETTER. Always good to get a title’s THE in the grid. Plus, we like literature.
- 38a. [Tangy dessert], LEMON MERINGUE PIE. I prefer Key lime pie, but….
- 44a. [Phencyclidine, colloquially], ANGEL DUST. Aka PCP. Is anyone still taking that?
- 58a. [Many an extreme athlete], ADRENALINE JUNKIE. V. good.
- 64a. [Simple], EASY TO UNDERSTAND. Easy as pie.
- 36d. [Youngest of a baseball trio], JESUS ALOU. Not generally a fan of ALOUs in the grid, but this one’s making me say “Jeezalou!”
One nice thing about triple-stacked 16s is that they are free of the stale 15s that have repeated in multiple puzzles.
Seven more things:
- 46d. [Preserves preserver], JAM JAR. Is that a contrived phrase? “Jelly jar” is a thing, “Mason jar” is a thing.
- 4d. [@ @ @], ATS. Hmm. I reckon those are “at signs” and not “ats.” You can’t pluralize AT unless you’re referring to the Cambodian unit of currency.
- 21a. [Brit in the news], HUME. Really nice clue. Brit Hume is currently on Fox News.
- 46a. [Notepad user], JOTTER. Meh. You can jot things down, sure, but nobody’s calling you a JOTTER.
- 15d. [Memory: Prefix], MNEM-. Blech.
- Quick! Name three 4-letter names of people that start with E and are found in crosswords well out of proportion to their circulation in non-crossword discourse. Did you say ERLE, ERTE, and ENID? Very good! ENYA is a runner-up because she’s actually a current figure in pop culture who sang a soundtrack song that garnered Grammy and Oscar nominations. EDIE isn’t really in the running since Ms. Falco is pretty prominent in acting circles. ELLA Fitzgerald, ELSA from Frozen, EMMA Stone et al, and other names are also less crosswordese-infected than ERLE, ERTE, and ENID.
- 19a. [Literally, “fool”], SOT. Did not know that.
As for the star rating … hmm. Good long fill offset by the stuff I didn’t care for. 3.66 stars?
Samuel A. Donaldson’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword – “Saved by the Bell”
Greetings, crossword fans. Doug here, filling in for pannonica. Oh man, I got excited when I saw the title! A tribute to the classic sitcom Saved by the Bell? Yes! I wondered what Sam came up with for theme entries: SCREECH OWL? QUARTERBACK ZACK? EMPIRE STATE BELDING?
Oops, false alarm. The “Bell” is the “bell curve” used by a teacher who is …
- 24a. [Distribution system for exam scores that’s displayed in this puzzle], GRADING ON A CURVE.
Sam’s curve (OK, it’s a little bit triangly) is represented by circles in the grid. You’ve got your A-students on the high end of the curve and your flunkers on the low end of the curve. Sam is a professor, so he knows all about grading. Does he use the bell curve? I bet Sam gives out lots of A’s and B’s. He’s undoubtedly one of those cool professors that the kids love. The prof who knows all the hip references and occasionally goes out for a beer with some of his students after class. I loved those professors. And everything’s just peachy until you show up at his house at 3 in the morning because you need to borrow a tarp, thirty feet of rope, and a shovel right now and he won’t even open the door… Oops, sorry. Little flashback there. Anyway, if a test is too difficult (or no one studied), the students could certainly be “saved by the bell” curve, so this is fun.
- 18a. [State capital near the 45th parallel], SALEM. Remember the recent kerfuffle about the frighteningly ugly Lucille Ball statue? I experienced similar statue trauma in SALEM, Massachusetts. I love Elizabeth Montgomery, and so I wanted to check out her statue when I was in Salem a few years ago. I know not what eldritch power created the visage you see on the right, but it must not be allowed to sculpt any future abominations! So please sign my petition at change.org to outlaw bronze statues of beloved sitcom stars. If they ever put up a god-awful bronze statue of Barbara Eden in Cocoa Beach, I will personally melt it with a blowtorch.
- 38d. [Reptilian symbol of commerce], CADUCEUS. I know this as a symbol of medicine. Turns out it’s also a symbol of commerce. Nice. I always learn something, or a few things, when I solve a CHE puzzle.
- 28a. [Clunkers of sorts], SOUR NOTES. Bonus theme answer. Play the circled notes on your favorite musical instrument, and the resulting song will sound very sour.
- 55d. [Wisecrack], JAPE. The Man Who Japed looks like he could use a tarp and a shovel. According to the cover blurb, the dude carrying a severed head “undermined their world with mockery!”
- 9d. [Socks in the Clinton White House, e.g.], TOMCAT. I have a hilarious Socks picture I could post, but I don’t have room. I’ll have to find a way to sneak it into my next post. I bet you can’t wait.
Yeah, I know this was an odd write-up. I’m more of a picture poster than a puzzle analyzer. But I know what I like, and this was a great solve. Quality work from Sam and Brad. What letter grade would I give this puzzle? Well, it depends. On its own, it’s a solid A-. But if Patrick Berry has a puzzle today, he’s going to “blow the curve” and the rest of the poor Friday constructors are all going to get C’s and D’s. Live by the curve, die by the curve.
Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Golly Gee!”–Sam Donaldson’s review
Hello, again! It’s me, Sam Donaldson, once more sitting in for pannonica. Have no fear–intellectual critique of the WSJ puzzle will resume next week. In the meantime, think of me as the substitute teacher. Then again, now that I remember how we used to treat subs when I was a kid, maybe you shouldn’t think of me like that. Let’s just get to today’s puzzle.
Notice that the constructor byline, Marie Kelly, anagrams to “Really Mike.” What we have here is a Mike Shenk puzzle, and that’s always welcome. The theme reinterprets today, May Day, as “Mayday!” As the clue for 108-Down tells us, S.O.S. is both [Mayday! (and the initials of this puzzle’s longest answers)]. True that–the seven longest answers in the puzzle all have the initials S.O.S.:
- The [Critique of many an arty movie] is that it elevated STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE. My fellow federal tax mavens often keep the similar judicial doctrine of “substance over form” in mind as we design transactions so as to minimize the tax bite. I’m thinking we should rename the doctrine “substance over style” so we sound cooler. Cooler than we already are, that is.
- An [Oft-repeated situation] is the SAME OLD STORY. I could elaborate, but it would just be, well, you know.
- [Deidre Hall, for one] is a SOAP OPERA STAR. I’m unfamiliar with Ms. Hall, largely because the only time I ever watched soap operas was when I was home sick from school. This was back in the days before on-demand television (hell, it was before cable), so it’s not like a sick boy on the couch had many options. Anyway, Ms. Hall played Dr. Marlena Hall on Days of Our Lives for 32(!) years. I like this bit from her character’s bio on Wikipedia: Throughout the course of her existence on the program, she has experienced what some consider to be the most outrageous circumstances of any character in soap opera history. These would include possession by the devil; a plummet from a 30-story-window (which she survived); being used as a surrogate for genetically engineered babies, Rex and Cassie, during a four-year coma; being mind-controlled to believe she was a serial killer; and becoming pregnant late in life and suffering a miscarriage, which caused her to have hysterical amnesia. She has also been kidnapped numerous times over the past 30 years. She is a doctor, wife, mother, twin, grandmother and great-grandmother. That’s what you might call a full life.
- The SPEED OF SOUND is clued as [Exceeding it causes a boom]. That’s a perfectly fine clue, but I might have mixed things up a little with something like [340.29 meters per second, at sea level].
- One [Showing off] may be said to be STRUTTING ONE’S STUFF. That’s probably my favorite of theme answers, if only because it reminds me of this…
- The [Weapons for Bonnie and Clyde] were SAWED-OFF SHOTGUNS. Great entry, in part because it allows us to discuss a matter of, shall we say, initial importance. Are the initials for “sawed-off shotgun” really S.O.S., or are they just S.S.? Do hyphenated words contain two or more initials? Please offer your thoughts in the comment field, if for no other reason than to prove you actually read this far.
- A [Huckster] might be called a SNAKE OIL SALESMAN, particularly if said huckster self-identifies with the male gender.
The puzzle seemed to offer just the right amount of resistance. There were several answers I couldn’t get on the first go, but later, with a couple of crossings in place, they all seemed to fall quite nicely. Some answers put up even more of a fight, but they were hardly unfair; I just didn’t know them. Like FO’C’S’LE, clued as [Crew quarters]. Heretofore I don’t think I’ve encountered a word with three apostrophes. My dictionary says the word is short for “forecastle.” Given the use of cap’n and bos’n asea, I’ll buy it.
Another one that gave me some small fits was MESTA, the [Famed “hostess with the mostest”]. That’s Perle Mesta, for those keeping track at home. She was known for throwing big parties in Washington, D.C. They mesta been nice to attend.
I see little in the grid that would ping Amy’s patent-pending Scowl-O-Meter. ARECA, the [Betel nut tree], may be the worst entry in the whole puzzle, but it’s not per se bad. What we have here is trademark smoothness from Mike Shenk, one of the all-time greats in this craft. And look at some of the juiciness here: PLAY GOD, MARDI GRAS, BOOZY, TAP OUT, AS LONG AS, and GIT GO are all terrific.
Before signing off, it seems appropriate here to share some great news announced to constructors earlier this week: sometime in the near future, the WSJ will be offering a daily crossword (well, Monday through Saturday) instead of just the Friday puzzle! The 21×21 Friday puzzle will move to Saturday, and 15×15 dailies will run on weekdays. No word yet on whether that puzzle will be blogged on this site, but contact our fearless leader if you’re interested in the gig.
Favorite entry = LETTING GO, the [Challenge for parents]. Favorite clue = [Prepare for takeoff?] for UNTIE.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “That’s Entertainment”—Ade’s write-up
“While strolling through the park one day, in the merry merry month of May!” Hello there, and hope you’re all doing well as we begin the month of May! Today’s crossword puzzle, offered up by Mr. Doug Peterson, puts a spin on common terms, common nouns and phrases by making them puns with its clues.
- RATIONAL NUMBER (20A: [Singer’s tribute to good judgement?])
- CLASS ACT (31A: [Performance featuring students dancing on desks?]) – That wouldn’t be a bad senior prank to pull off, now would it?
- DRILL BIT (43A: [Routine with a goofy boot camp instructor?])
- CHARCOAL SKETCH (56A: [Comical piece about barbecue supplies?])
Got off to a pretty slow start, as I was not quick on getting STAB when reading its clue (1A: [Grab with a toothpick]). I guess stabbing is what we do when using a toothpick most times, but just reading that makes my gums shiver, as I’m sure it wouldn’t like to be stabbed by a toothpick. After that, it was a pretty smooth solve. How great is it that GRILLING intersects the theme answer that involves barbecue (38D: [Fourth of July activity, often])? By the way, I can’t believe that Independence Day is pretty much to months away now! Here’s another chance to lament not eating seafood, as I don’t know how good (or not) CRAB DIP is (10D: [Appetizer for seafood lovers]). Oh, did I use the word lament in the last sentence and not turn it plural to LAMENTS, which also happens to appear in the grid (45D: [Weeps for])? That’s a fail on my part.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: COMANECI (6D: [1976 Olympic gymnastics star Nadia]) – Almost inarguably the greatest gymnast in history, Romanian Nadia COMANECI was the first gymnast to record a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic event, doing so on the uneven bars during the 1976 Olympics in Montréal at the ripe old age of 14. Comaneci went on to win five gold medals during those Olympic games. Comaneci is married to former American gymnast Bart Conner, who won two gold medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, including an individual award on the parallel bars.
Enjoy the weekend, everyone, and I’ll see you on Saturday!
Max Carpenter’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
You don’t often see a Thursday-NYT type gimmick in the LA Times. This one looks crazy once it’s completed! I picked it up early on in the solve, though it was still tricky to know whether a particular U was single or double. As spelt out in the final answer, DOUBLEU, 18 entries have their W’s written as UU in two blocks. (W)ORLD(W)IDE(W)EB has 3 W’s, as does PO(W)(W)O(W). A(W)K(W)ARD has two. The others are: T(W)EENER (I’ve not heard of that tennis shot!), T(W)O, (W)R (a rare two letter answer!), and CLO(W)N going across; and LO(W), IO(W)A, A(W)LS, LA(W)SUIT, RAN(W)ILD, (W)ENDY, ANE(W), (W)ORK, (W)ARD, AVO(W), and (W)AND going down.
With a sprawling puzzle theme like this one, for the most part the puzzle is the gimmick and the fun comes in figuring out its intricacies. We do get a DICAPRIO in the quieter bottom-right. I can imagine this was a fun, and unusual grid filling experience for the constructor!
- [IBM-inspired villain], HAL. I’m pretty sure ACC maintained the names were coincidental ’til his death.
- [Modern crime head?], CYBER. I’d prefer “quaint”.
4 Stars. Fun gimmick.
Gareth, leaving you with the beautiful work of Ms. Bush