Kevin Der’s New York Times crossword, “A Tale of Many Cities”
This puzzle is a 23×23, which is surprising since Will announced in the fall of 2010 that he was no longer accepting Sunday puzzles larger than the standard 21×21 size. I suspect that means this puzzle was accepted 4.5+ years ago and has been languishing in the backlog ever since. It was rather a slog to get through, and the theme execution is much less elegant than we’ve come to expect from Kevin. I couldn’t even figure out what the circled letters were for without reading the puzzle’s notepad info: “When this puzzle is completed, the circled letters will form a path (starting in the first circle of 93-Across) spelling out the puzzle’s theme. Each long Down answer contains a hidden city, reading in order from top to bottom, not necessarily consecutively. The location of the city, and its number of letters, are indicated.” The first and last Down answers are JULES / VERNE. The eight long Down answers have city names hidden within them, interspersed but in order (and those letters are not circled because there’s a whole ‘nother circles thing going on). The circled squares in 93-Across are A and R, and if you think of Verne you might think of Around the World in Eighty Days. It’s a horrendously disordered path tracing out that title, though, isn’t it? It even crosses itself en route from the I in 132a ETUI to the G in 107a GEL.
Here are the hidden cities, from left to right:
- 3d. Brooklyn Heights school [U.S.; 3,9], SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE, San Francisco. Those last 9 letters are contiguous. Never heard of the school.
- 31d. PBS craft show for 21 seasons [U.S.; 3,4], THE NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP, New York.
- 6d. Relaxing [U.K.; 6] LETTING ONE’S HAIR DOWN, London. 6 city letters, 13 non?
- 75d. Ones pressed into service in the kitchen? [Egypt; 4] LEMON SQUEEZERS, Suez. Sheesh, only 4 letters hiding in here, and Suez is far from the same level as the other cities. A half million people, not a tourism magnet? Also, I think lemon juicers and reamers are more familiar than squeezers.
- 10d. 1988 Bon Jovi hit [India; 6], BORN TO BE MY BABY, Bombay. Except it’s generally called Mumbai now. Never heard of the song.
- 39d. Military trial for a misdemeanor [India; 8], SPECIAL COURT-MARTIAL, Calcutta. Didn’t know a special court-martial was a thing.
- 14d. 1996 Geena Davis thriller [China; 4,4], THE LONG KISS GOOD NIGHT, Hong Kong.
- 41d. “Get it?” [Japan; 8], YOU KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING, Yokohama. Yokohama isn’t that familiar to Americans, but it’s Japan’s second-largest city, after Tokyo.
So I wasn’t loving all the theme answers, all the cities, the way the city names were embedded, or the way the circled letters’ path travels. That leaves the rest of the puzzle, then, to win me back over. I like OPEN BAR, HOT DATES, BAGPIPES, MARATHON, WONKY … and then there’s all the unlikeable fill. ERN STET ERST ESSO ONKP NABE UDE EDER EROO ROTA WEEB EWER K_CAR OTOE OSH ETUI YEE ERI and FANON jump out in the Acrosses, and there are also plenty of things like ATRI and EPODE in the Downs. An onslaught of crosswordese in a puzzle big enough to accommodate an awful lot of it.
Having not read the notepad info before solving, there was a whole lot of “Why??” while I was working the puzzle. Finding out why there are circled letters afterwards didn’t do much to redeem the experience.
Kevin’s published about 30 NYT crosswords and I reckon I liked all of the previous ones better than this. I won’t hold this against him, because any crossword he makes now will be much more polished than this one.
Two stars from me.
Postscript: Kevin messaged me to explain the theme a little better. Those of us who haven’t read Around the World don’t necessarily know what goes on in the book. The protagonist sails to all of the cities that are hidden in the theme answers, in the order that the circled-squares path takes you to them, and when the circled-squares title goes from I to G, it’s not crossing the AROUND portion of the path—it’s going behind the grid, around the back side of the globe. This was all totally lost on me, and I suppose the notepad could have been more revealing, but would have provided major spoilers if it had been.
Mark Bickham’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Hatch Job”—Andy’s review
Two-word phrases that are literally hiding 104a, NESTING BIRDS [Signs of spring that are literally hidden in the answers to the starred clues]. Literal hilarity literally ensues:
- 25a, ALWAY(S WAN)TED [*Dreamt of].
- 27a, AR(MY NA)VY [*Type of surplus store].
- 32a, STARTE(D OVE)R [*Forgot the past].
- 64a, VENTNO(R AVEN)UE [*Yellow Monopoly property].
- 94a, POPU(LAR K)IDS [*School in-crowd].
- 101a, HAL(F INCH) [*Tape width, perhaps].
- 33d, T(HE RON)ETTES [*”Be My Baby” singers].
- 38d, SN(OW L)EOPARD [*Alpine feline].
- 49d, LO(W REN)T [*Like some flats].
Lots of good stuff. ALWAYS WANTED wasn’t my favorite phrase by itself, but it was mostly fine. Didn’t care for the dupe with GOTTA GO and GO TO SEA. Otherwise, a smooth, nice easy Sunday puzzle.
I got a bit tripped up in the SE corner; I was sure 117a, [In] was ELECTED. This gave me the nonsense word SEDD at 110d, [Apple product]. Turns out “in” can be a noun referring to a person who’s been voted in, which gives ELECTEE/SEED.
That’s all from me. 3.6 stars. Until next time!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “See You Sooner or Later”–Sam Donaldson’s review
“See you,” in text speak (for those with lazy thumbs), is “c u.” Here, the bigram “CU” gets added to ten common terms to make some wacky new ones. Sometimes the CU comes up early, and sometimes it’s near the end. Hence the title, “See You Sooner or Later,” which might be re-parsed as “CU, sooner in the theme answer or later in the theme answer–you’ll just have to guess where each time.”
Here are the theme entries:
- The [Answer to, “What makes you so smart, dude?”] is ACUMEN, BROTHER, based on “Amen, brother.” A nice way to start–the theme becomes obvious, and the answer has a pleasant payoff.
- A “sad sack” turns into a SAD CUSACK, or [Actor John after not being cast?]. John Cusack always has a naturally sad face anyway, so who’s to say how he really feels.
- The “merry-go-round” now becomes a MERCURY-GO-ROUND, the [Popular ride at FordmotorWorld?]. I like how the clue just goes for it–the “FordmotorWorld” theme park is a fun image.
- I never knew there was a “Windsor tie.” A “Windsor knot,” sure. But not a “Windsor tie.” Still, it didn’t take long to figure out WINDSOR CUTIE as the answer to [Britain’s baby Charlotte, for example?].
- The James Hilton tale, Lost Horizon, here becomes LOCUST HORIZON, a [Book about a field trip that didn’t end too well?]. Huh? Field trip? Why does the clue take that angle, I wonder.
- You knew this one was coming: Benedict Cumberbatch becomes BENEDICT CUCUMBERBATCH, the [Actor famous for his homemade pickles?]. I wish the clue had parsed this as BENEDICT CUCUMBER BATCH so we could imagine a former Pope pleased with his vegetable garden harvest.
- “Mise-en-scène,” the French term for describing visual design, becomes MISCUE-EN-SCENE, like [Wearing a watch during “Hamlet,” for example?]. There’s much comedy to be found in anachronisms.
- “P.S., I Love You,” a Cecilia Ahern novel from about ten years ago, here morphs into CUPS, I LOVE YOU, the [Coffee addict’s comment when he opens his kitchen cabinet?].
- It takes two theme entries to get this one: the parental plea of “Call us as soon as you land” changes substantially into CALCULUS AS SOON / AS YOU LAND, clued as an [ad promise from an out-of-state math camp?]. So here the letter addition serves to unite two separate words into one. That’s not nearly as jarring as…
- … “grand master” becoming GRANDMA CUSTER, cleverly clued as [Person who said, “I told him not to go down there, but would he listed? Nooooo”?]. Here we keep the two words but change the location of the spacing. Like I said, jarring.
Again, the theme density here is remarkable. But it came with a cost, as we segue now into our countdown of the trickiest entries in the puzzle. Normally we feature the five hardest entries. But since this week’s grid has an unusually high quotient of weird stuff, here’s a full-blown top ten list:
- 10. The [Small bone] in your ear is an OSSICLE. On a hot summer day, there’s nothing like an ice-cold ossicle.
- 9. If you’re sorta new to crosswords, you might have been stumped by ULU, the [Eskimo knife]. Somewhere there’s a crossword with SULU’S ULU as a theme entry.
- 8. Next up is ULULATE, clued as
[Tardy Eskimo knife][Wail].
- 7. ANIL is both an [Indigo source] and a sign of desperation from a crossword constructor. You’ll see it in the New York Times puzzle on occasion, but it’s much rarer in the other major crossword outlets.
- 6. Wikipedia says CLU Gulager “is an American television and film actor and director, particularly noted for his co-starring role as William H. Bonney (Billy The Kid) in the 1960–1962 NBC television series The Tall Man and for his role as Emmett Ryker in another NBC western series, The Virginian.” I didn’t have a clue about him.
- 5. ANSAE are [Looped vase handles] that, according to the Cruciverb database, have appeared just eight times in major crosswords in the past 21 years despite all the common letters.
- 4. Something that’s [Of the dawn] is EOAN. Egads! What the ‘ell happened to the L from E-LOAN?
- 3. This one scares me: SCHERZI, the plural of scherzo, are [Lively movements] in music. (It doesn’t really scare me–it’s just that “scherzi” sounds a little like “scares me.” Move along, please.)
- 2. As one of Scottish descent, I feel like I should know a SPORRAN is a [Pouch worn with a kilt]. Me dead grandmother is probably ashamed.
- 1. I didn’t know Mount HOREB is another name for Mount Sinai, the [Biblical peak].
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Initial Impressions” — pannonica’s write-up
Bunch of famous people’s clued via a descriptive two-word phrase matching their initials.
- 22a. [Overweight Half] OLIVER HARDY.
- 34a. [Mormon Republican] MITT ROMNEY.
- 57a. [Tennis Alumna] TRACY AUSTIN.
- 69a. [Suave Host] STEVE HARVEY.
- 80a. [Megalomaniacal Athlete] MUHAMMAD ALI.
- 101a. [Journalistically Satirical] JON STEWART.
- 119a. [Knowledgeable Juggernaut] KEN JENNINGS.
- 3d. [Brooklyn Superstar] BARBRA STREISAND.
- 39d. [Greasepaint Moustache] GROUCHO MARX.
- 47d. [Stage Songsmith] STEPHEN SONDHEIM.
The first two I completed were O Hardy and G Marx, so I thought it was going to be comedic entertainers. Disabuse came about soon enough.
Plenty of other personages in the grid—NUREYEV, ALITO, FABIO, SHUE, EARNIE, and OLIVA, to name a few—but no other full names. It would be madness to expect a 21×21 crossword to eliminate them and remain intelligible, for the sake of resisting interlopement.
Typical mix of longer non-theme entries, crosswordese groaners, and the like. I won’t list them this time.
Favorite clues/answers. For cleverness: 75a [Its construction took at least 25 hours] ROME. For surprise: 118a [Honey Smacks mascot] DIG ’EM. For baldfaced audacity: 88a [Shak. title initials] AYLI. Make what you will of that.
Good puzzle, about average. (91a [Benchmark (abbr.)] STD.)