Don’t miss Merl’s last (as I understand it) puzzle, “Things Are People, Too.” We’ll review it Sunday.
Edited to say: Apparently that is the one that ran last Sunday in newspapers. There’s also a puzzle called “Wiseguy Studies” that is running today. Here’s the link to the puzzle at the Washington Post’s Sunday puzzle page, currently hosting “Wiseguy Studies.” We can’t blog two Merls in one day, or their star ratings will be combined.
Lee Taylor’s New York Times crossword, “Conflicting Advice”—Amy’s write-up
Fun and breezy theme—familiar adages that give conflicting advice are paired up, one in the clue and its opposite in the answer.
- 24a. [“He who hesitates is lost, but …”] LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP.
- 111a. [“You can’t judge a book by its cover, but …”] CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN.
- 3d. [“Birds of a feather flock together, but …”] OPPOSITES ATTRACT.
- 6d. [“Great minds think alike, but …”] FOOLS SELDOM DIFFER. Not sure I’ve ever heard the one in the grid.
- 34d. [“Slow and steady wins the race, but …”] TIME WAITS FOR NO MAN. I’m not troubled by the use of MAN in two sayings.
- 38d. [“Knowledge is power, but …”], IGNORANCE IS BLISS.
So basically, all such sayings are B.S. and should be taken with a grain of salt.
With just six theme answers, you might expect smoother fill than usual. We do get nice bits like BAGATELLE, HOME FRONT, VOLCANO, and STILETTO, but there’s also some crosswordese (OGEE, AARE, SABOT, ARA, and AMAH, I’m glaring at you). Not a ton of blah stuff, mind you.
Five more things:
- 84a. [Steer closer to the wind], LUFF. Is this nauticalese/sailing terminology? Have never, to my recollection, seen the word before.
- 93d. [Comedian Daniel and musician Peter], TOSHES. Plural last name? *scowl*
- 59d. [Port on the Panama Canal], COLON. Less familiar to non-Panamanians than the large intestine and the punctuation mark. It’s not technically duplicative to have APORT in the grid at 10d, is it?
- 48d. [Michael Sheen’s character in “Twilight”], ARO. Yes, I know millions of people saw that movie, but I’m not sure there’s a tremendous overlap between Twihards and NYT crossword solvers. Anyone who doesn’t know their crosswordese rivers (AARE!) or this character may wind up with a DNF (“did not finish”) on this one.
- 51a. [___ Soetoro, stepfather of Barack Obama], LOLO. Lolo is also the Filipino word for “grandpa.” My son has a lolo and lola.
3.66 stars from me. Enjoyed the theme, had markedly less fun with the fill (as is the case with most 21×21 puzzles).
Pam Amick Klawitter’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Male Bonding”—Andy’s review
I apologize in advance for the rant I’m about to unleash. Let me preface it by saying that I enjoy Pam’s puzzles, and to the extent possible, I’ve tried to prevent this from being ad hominem. This certainly isn’t the first puzzle where I’ve seen the problems I describe below. I’d also like to say that I think this is a fun, clever, well-executed theme, so let’s talk about that first:
In this puzzle, everyday phrases get “MAN” bonded to them, and hilarity ensues. Now, often when I say “hilarity ensues,” you understand that I’m being facetious. Here, I truly enjoyed all of the themers! They were as follows:
- 27a, QUOTATION MARKSMAN [One whose citations are always on target?].
- 47a, MIDDLE MAN SCHOOL [Where go-betweens learn their craft?].
- 63a, FRIENDLY FIREMAN [Civil civil servant?]. A legitimately funny clue!
- 74a, LETTERMAN OPENER [Show segment that included shots of New York City?].
- 94a, MANPOWER FAILURE [Work force breakdown?].
- 114a, MANHANDLE WITH CARE [Ambiguous packing instructions?].
Only six theme entries, but (a) they’re all long, and (b) they’re all funny. I appreciate when a theme knows its limitations and gets out quickly rather than including one or two misfits while striving for density. Brava.
What really pisses me off, though, is the presence of lazy fill throughout this puzzle. Let me clarify what I mean by “lazy fill.” What I don’t mean is the standard junk that comes with the territory. I always make a note of bad fill, but if the grid necessitates it, I totally understand. I’ve been there. I sometimes have to put entries in my own puzzles that make me wince. I also understand the school of constructing that is willing to throw in a few ugly entries to make room for truly jaw-dropping stuff elsewhere (I’m looking at you Quad-Stackers, Scrabblef****rs, 60-word themeless makers, etc.). It’s not the route I tend to go with my own puzzles (wherever possible), but it’s interesting and cool and fun to solve and God bless.
That’s not what I’m talking about here. The best way I can think to explain it is to give you three concrete examples of lazy construction from this puzzle and explain why I am led to believe that they are the product of laziness.
Example 1: 72d, AGENA. I don’t know anyone who thinks AGENA is awesome crossword fill. To wit, despite its incredibly crossword-friendly letter pattern, AGENA has only been in the NYT 6 times since 2002, each time in a much more restrictive grid than this one (that is, all of these AGENA appearances were in Thursday, Friday, or Saturday puzzles). The obvious replacement here is ARENA, which I’ve shown how to incorporate at right.
To be fair, there’s a fairly obvious reason AGENA is used here instead of ARENA: ARENA appears elsewhere in the grid, at 109d. But here’s the thing: the ARENA at 109a is in an extremely unrestricted section of the grid, and ARENA isn’t doing anything for that corner. It’s clear to me that the constructor filled that corner, got to 72d, couldn’t use ARENA again, and decided to use AGENA instead of refilling the SE corner to get rid of the first ARENA.
I refilled the SE corner in under a minute, giving myself the restrictions that (a) the resulting fill had to be cleaner (really, the only way to do that was to make sure I had no plural abbreviations like PSAs), and (b) I had to include either a Q, a Z, or an X. The result is featured at left. It was Not Hard.
Example 2: 111d, HOSP. The SW corner of this puzzle is incredibly easy to fill. The only restriction is the terminal -NLY of SOLEMNLY, all of which are lovely ending letters for the across entries. There is no excuse for HOSP. in this corner, which, again, nobody I know thinks is excellent crossword fill. The only two reasons I can think of for including HOSP in this corner are (a) the constructor filled it as quickly as possible, found something that vaguely worked, and decided to say “Good enough” instead of trying to make it better; or–and I sincerely hope this isn’t it–(b) the constructor thought HOSP was legitimately good crossword fill, and that the corner simply could not be improved.
This time, I gave myself a two-minute time limit, and the restrictions that the fill had to include no partials or abbreviations, and that the fill had to include at least two “Scrabbly” letters (F, V, K, J, Q, or Z). I managed to clean it up and put in four Scrabbly letters. The result is pictured at right. It was Not Hard. (If you don’t like FAVE, replace OFF with SET.).
Example 2: 14a, ELLAS. Again, this would be fine if ELLAS were necessary to make the corner work. But it’s not. Not nearly. What’s worse, it crosses the completely avoidable crosswordese ALEE.
This time, I gave myself a two-minute time limit, and the restriction that I had to have an X somewhere in the corner, no matter how bad it made the fill. The result is pictured at right. It was NOT HARD.
What makes me so, so angry about this is that with just five extra minutes of care, this puzzle could have been so much cleaner. If you are unable to fill little corners like these cleanly, then your puzzle shouldn’t run in a mainstream outlet. End of story. Work on it, and resubmit the puzzle once you’ve mastered it. In the alternative, if the problem is that you’re too lazy to fill little corners like these cleanly, the result is the same: your puzzle shouldn’t run in a mainstream outlet.
Maybe I misunderstand what the job of a crossword editor is, but I don’t understand why puzzles with careless fill like this aren’t sent back to the constructors, or in the alternative why an editor wouldn’t take the time to refill these easily fixable corners themselves before publishing them. Or maybe I misunderstand what “good fill” is, in which case the entirety of this post is rendered null and void, and I’ll see myself out.
Hrendan Hammett Higley’s CRooked crossword, “Tea Party” — pannonica’s write-up
In which Ts are liberally sprinkled into phrases to create wackified ones.
- 23a. [Really big place to take college placement exams?] PLANET OF THE AP TEST (Planet of the Apes).
- 41a. [Fabric in the town’s center?] TEXTILE ON MAIN ST (Exile on Main St).
- 49a. [Shaped like an iPad?] TABLET-BODIED (able-bodied).
- 68a. [Rich German cake that’s tough to eat?] IRON TORTE (iron ore).
- 70a. [Girl who communicates 140 characters at a time?] TWEET LASS (wee lass).
- 88a. [People who can get clean with just a drop of water?] STUNT BATHERS (sunbathers). My favorite of the news.
- 96a. [Radical colorful fish?] POSTMODERN TETRA (postmodern era). I wouldn’t have thought this was a common phrase formulation, but the internet seems to disagree.
- 115a. [Strict student of the life sciences?] MARTINET BIOLOGIST (marine biologist).
More specifically. What the theme entries do: add precisely two Ts to a single word of the extant phrase. What the theme is agnostic about: whether the original phrase already includes the letter T, rebracketing of constituent words, Ts elsewhere in the grid.
The mood of the crossword is self-consciously hipper than either Hook’s or Hex’s offerings at this venue—or BEQ’s for other mainstream outlets such as the New York Times—but less so than those on his own website. Examples: 17a [“That so?” in IMs] O RLY, 28a [Geek blogger Wheaton] WIL.
- 8d [Did an extra car wash job] HOT-WAXED, 24d [Guys driving the train] ENGINE MEN … O RLY?
- 78d [“Mock” architectural style] TUDOR.
- 16d [Lincoln cap] TOP HAT; the stovepipe hat is a subcategory of TOP HAT. 47a [“I’m not impressed”] MEH.
- 55d [Grow pale] WAN; did not know it was also a verb.
- 116d [Ques. opposite] ANS. I’d call it a complement, but either way it’s rather ugly.
- 21d [Landing pt. in “Genesis”] MT ARARAT crossing 48a [Two by two] IN PAIRS.
- Dupetastic: 38a [Biological halo] AREOLA and themer 115-across, and—of course—85a [Gunpowder, e.g.] TEA and the puzzle’s title; perhaps the idea was to riff on 75d [Red sticks] TNT?
- Row 15: 92a [Back end of a cassette] SIDE TWO, 94a [Nanki-__ (“The Mikado” role) POO, 95a [Small morsel] NIBLET. Is this some kind of corny inside joke?
- Favorite fill? 62a [Process of consuming again, as a cell] REUPTAKE. As in Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). Lamest clue? 119d [Gull’s night out location] SEA.
- 39a [“Madly for __” (1952 slogan)] ADLAI Stevenson. Wow, that doesn’t scan well at all. They really used that? Seems better suited to that other crossword-favorite, the UK’s postwar prime minister, Clement ATTLEE. … consults pronunciation guide … oh! it seems I’ve been mispronouncing ADLAI all this time. Wow. Still, not a perfect rhyme (long-a vs long-e; my longstanding mispronunciation was as a long-i). And now I’ve discovered that two musical artists sharing a certain birthday both have songs called “All This Time”.
Decent theme, clean fill overall, solid crossword.
Merl Reagle’s penultimate syndicated crossword, “Things Are People, Too”—Amy’s review
I’m grateful to Sam for taking over the Merl-blogging from me this year —his breed of whimsy is so perfectly suited to writing about Merl’s whimsy.
In the 20×21 “Things Are People, Too,” Merl collects a batch of colorful terms for people that sound more like inanimate objects:
- 22a. [Work shirker *], GOLDBRICK.
- 24a. [Non-mixer at a mixer *], WALLFLOWER.
- 32a. [Timid type *], CREAM PUFF. “Timid” feels a little more wallflowery to me than cream-puffy.
- 35a. [Newsroom figure *], ANCHOR.
- 50a. [Doofus *], DUMBBELL.
- 52a. [Gangly guy *], STRING BEAN. Or a gangly gal.
- 67a. [Statuesque stunner *], TALL DRINK OF WATER. I have multiple tall drinks of water every day. Keep the kidney flushed and busy!
- 85a. [Attorney, for one *], MOUTHPIECE.
- 88a. [Energetic type *], LIVE WIRE. Shocking!
- 101a. [Vivacious person *], PISTOL.
- 104a. [Cartoon mother-in-law *], BATTLE-AXE. No idea how this word came to be gendered thus. Dictionary says “formidably aggressive older woman.” Certainly there are also formidably aggressive men. Do they just get called “men”?
- 115a. [Sissy *], PANTYWAIST. I loathe this term, and sissy too. There’s room for all sorts of men, and all sorts of women, anywhere on the spectrum from mild-mannered to aggressive.
- 118a. [Unconventional type *], SCREWBALL. Man, I used to love getting a Screwball from the ice cream truck—some sort of gross sherbet with a stale, wet gumball at the bottom.
No wordplay in this theme, just a collection of lively phrases and words with something in common, a category theme. Works for me.
You know what I just noticed for the first time? That 47d: METER MAID is MERMAID with E.T. stuck inside it. I assume this has been used in cryptic crosswords before. I also assume that Merl noticed this decades ago.
Names I didn’t know:
- 57d. [Original Mouseketeer Burr], LONNIE. More my mother’s generation than mine. Bluesman Lonnie Brooks, I know. I think he played at my college once.
- 70d. [Comedian who’s the subject of “The Joker Is Wild,” Joe ___], E. LEWIS. Never heard of the comedian, don’t care for middle initials bundled with a first or last name in the grid.
Five more things:
- 83d. [Sue Ellen Ewing portrayer on “Dallas”], LINDA GRAY. Couldn’t figure out why LINDA EVANS wouldn’t fit. Yes, I got my Dallas and Dynasty Lindas mixed up.
- 86d. [Rose and rows, e.g.], HOMONYMS. I like clues like this.
- 75a. [Waterfall jumper], SALMON. My first thought was of people going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Wrong direction!
- 68d. [Father of Xerxes], DARIUS. A classical clue for DARIUS—the more modern approach would be country star Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish rock fame.
- 100d. [Cry over spilled milk?], MEOW. I’m assuming it’s a happy “meow” as the cat rushes to lap up the milk on the floor.
Four stars from me.
Doug Peterson’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Hello everyone! How are you all today?
My apologies for being late on here, but a busy sports weekend leading up to the U.S. Open is causing scheduling chaos. So I can’t give today’s puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Doug Peterson, the justice it deserves in terms of breaking it down, which blows since it’s a great puzzle with some great fill.
Being in media communications for over a decade, the clue to FCC was down my alley, as I have remembered that logo for a good while now (5D: [Its seal features an eagle clutching lightning bolts]). Another clue down my alley that helped open things up was PENTATHLON, though I always fall into the bad habit of spelling it, along with biathlon, with an extra “a” before the “lon” at the end (28D: [Contest that involves épées and pistols]). Those three Ls in I’LL LIVE were fun to see, and I know I like to say that a lot anytime I suffer a minor knock (62A: [“It’s only a scratch”]). Time to head to bed, as I’ll be up first thing in the morning to head to the U.S. Open.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: YOKE (7D: [Joining device])– For many years, the Super YOKE was a staple of the World’s Strongest Man competition. The strongmen carry a massive amount of weight supported by a yoke which, usually, is on the backs of the competitors as they walk as far as they can before having to place the weights down on the ground. This looks like a walk in the park, right?!
Thank you so much for your time, and I hope to see you tomorrow!