Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword
The theme is INNER/EAR, but that two-word revealer is oddly split into 63a (not in the bottom row), to the right of 60d. Each of the starred entries has its first word ending in E and second word starting with AR, for an “inner” EAR. There’s EDDIE ARCARO, SURFACE AREA, HORSE AROUND, FALSE ARREST, FINE ARTS, and BARE ARMS.
I can’t help thinking that the puzzle would have been better without the two Down theme entries. The grid gets overcrowded with thematic material, clamping down on too much of the fill—the result being Tuesday-unfriendly answers like RLS, SDS, DAHS, IPANA, ANGUILLA, ROC clued as [Miami Beach’s Eden ___ resort], ECUS, and EMEND with an initial E.
I do like the inclusion of NIA Vardalos (her sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes out soon), AMY TAN (whose **YTA* had me ready to plunk in MAYTAG), goddesses HERA and IRIS, Lena HORNE, and HELENE Curtis (whose name was on one of the best combs I ever had). Six women to four men, good ratio. Other good fill: MADE IT, I’M DONE.
- 18d. [Caribbean island whose name means “eel”], ANGUILLA. I wonder where it is. It’s not a sovereign nation … Okay, it’s east of the Virgin Islands, a British territory, a tax haven; population half that of Natick, Massachusetts. Named after the island’s shape, which, if you ask me, should be markedly longer and skinnier to resemble an eel.
- 12d. [Certain druggie], ACIDHEAD. Is … is this a term from the ’60s? Pothead, I recognize. Can’t say ACIDHEAD feels familiar to me.
- 46a. [Cool, in jive talk], HEP. Please define jive talk for me.
Three stars from me.
Ellen Leuschner’s & Mary Lou Guizzo’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Deal Breakers” — Jim’s write-up
Whew! Took me almost as long to write that title as it did to do the puzzle!
Today’s puzzle comes from not just one woman, but TWO women, and neither of them is a Mike Shenk pseudonym. (If you didn’t know, there’s an ongoing debate about why there are fewer women than men in the field of crossword construction.) So this is refreshing to see. What do they have in store for us?
- 20A [NAFTA, for one] TRADE ALLIANCE. The T in NAFTA is TRADE. Having it in the clue (even as part of an acronym) and in the entry is a bit of a no-no. But rules are made to be broken, right?
- 28A [Civilian’s opportunity to accompany a trooper] RIDE-ALONG. Great entry! Also a 2014 movie with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart.
- 48A [Lager’s kin] BLONDE ALE. Nice.
- 58A [Nightstand noisemakers] BEDSIDE ALARMS. *grumble* I think they’re normally just called alarm clocks.
What do they have in common? Look closely and you’ll see the letters D E A L spanning the two words in each answer. So in those phrases, DEAL is broken. In fact, they each break the same way in each phrase with DE ending the first word and AL starting the second word, which is a nice bit of consistency.
Good stuff: ALLEY OOP next to RASCALS, FOOD BANK next to SNEEZES, SPRUCE next to TIMBER. SUNRISE, TOP THAT, and MEAT PIE make for nice horizontal entries.
Odd stuff: BRAZ / BAY could have been (Jason) MRAZ / MAY. GET A HIT feels a little too arbitrary, but it’s not over the top.
Bad stuff: Not a whole lot.
The SE corner is what killed me. The cluing down there seemed orders of magnitude harder than the rest of the puzzle. It took me nearly as long to do that as it did the rest of the grid. I had ALARMS and ESSEN and TERN for a long time before anything else fell in.
I blame “George of the Jungle”. I could not get past that clue for 53D [“Watch out for that tree!”] (TIMBER) without singing the George of the Jungle theme song. Did you know there’s a new version of the old cartoon? My daughter watches it. Maybe not as good as the old ones, but it definitely has some funny moments.
An unusually tough corner, but if you never watched “George of the Jungle”, then everything probably fell into place for you.
Bottom line: Fun grid with a couple hiccups in the theme answers, but a lot of good stuff besides. 4 stars from me.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Easy As Pie” – Derek’s write-up
I thought this might be a themeless at first glance, but this wide-open feat of construction actually has FIVE thematic entries. This is one of the reasons why Matt is a pro at this. I’m a little behind, but I am also working on his Ornery Crossword in the December Games World of Puzzles. Also a feat of construction! The title here states, “Easy As Pie,” and sure enough, I got hungry. Here’s why:
- 19A [Houdini, notably] ESCAPE ARTIST
- 29A [They go through a slicer] DELI MEATS
- 39A [Jupiter and Mars, among others] ROMAN GODS
- 50A [Show sadness] SHED A TEAR
- 59A [Pie feature, or feature of this puzzle’s other four longest answers] FRUIT FILLING
Are you hungry now, too? I’ve recently heard of Porch Pies, and as I am typing this blog post, I think I will order one! (Or maybe not; with shipping it’s $70!!!!) Hopefully you enjoyed finding the hidden PEAR, LIME, MANGO, and DATE in the theme entries; the fruit filling!
Not only is the puzzle wide open, especially at the top and bottom, the fill is great. If my count is right, it actually is 76 words, which is higher than it appears at first glance. But maybe that’s why the fill is pretty good. Only a minor squabble or two from me, as I will mention below:
- 27A [“Ugly Betty” actor Michael] URIE – I have seen his name before in crosswords, but it didn’t come to me very quickly today. I have never seen the show, either. Maybe I will hunt for it on Netflix…
- 65A [Estate] HACIENDA – This is actually in the dictionary, even though it is definitely borrowed from Spanish. There are some restaurants in this area named Hacienda; they have fair-at-best Mexican fare. Good margaritas, though…
- 3D [Round and flat in shape] DISCOID – This, too, is in the dictionary! New one on me. With this crossing URIE, it makes solving difficult without checking a reference. Or checking for errors.
- 7D [“M*A*S*H” actor Jamie] FARR – I remember this well. Am I that old?
- 11D [Big name in chocolate] NESTLÉ – Did I mention I am getting hungry??
- 35D [“Livin’ La Vida ___” (1999 hit)] LOCA – Why does this seem every bit as old as M*A*S*H??
- 47D [“Pizza Hut” competitor] DOMINO’S – Where I live, Domino’s doesn’t exist!! The closest one is 25 minutes away, so of course I cannot get delivery, and that’s almost to far to drive to take a pizza home. It’s a tragedy, really!
4.3 stars for 5 theme entries in a eye-pleasing grid. Until next week!
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
My new favorite constructor (on Tuesdays!) C.C. Burnikel is back with a nice idea for a slightly easier puzzle. The circled squares beckon when you begin, and there is even some anticipation as to what they will denote. In this puzzle, we are headed up the river:
- 17A [Badminton court boundary] SERVICE LINE
- 23A [Trilogy with the heroine Katniss Everdeen] THE HUNGER GAMES
- 36A [GamCube, for one] NINTENDO CONSOLE
- 49A [Vehicles for James Cagney] GANGSTER MOVIES
- 58A [It may straddle neighboring countries … and, in a different way, what each of four sets of puzzle circles graphically depicts] BORDER RIVER
Did you notice the SEINE, THAMES, NILE, and GANGES rivers in the circled letters? I marked the circled letters in red above. I know I sound like a broken record maybe, but the fill in these LAT puzzles are very good. Solved this one quickly, but that’s mainly because I am trying to get ready for the ACPT in April! I know I am not the fastest solver around, but I am hoping for a top 50 this year. For me, it’s not so much about speed, but more about not making stupid errors. If I had solved clean last year, I would have finished about 45th, if my memory serves me right. Also, can’t wait to see you all in Stamford!
Now, as for the puzzle:
- 30A [Captain Picard’s counselor] TROI – How long has this show been off the air? Still popular I would assume, and not just among Trekkies. Probably still on in syndication somewhere, albeit hard to find in today’s world of 1,000 channels!
- 63A [Snoring cause, often] APNEA – I remember hearing on an episode of The Biggest Loser a few years ago that this can be an issue for obese people, because literally the fat in one’s neck will choke your windpipe!
- 5D [Meditative Chinese discipline] TAI CHI – I am all for things that calm you down. Thinking of running another marathon next year, in addition to the triathlon, because the training runs are almost like therapy. Those endorphins are real!
- 11D [“You’ve got to be kidding!”] OH, COME NOW! – C.C. is a master, at least to me, of these casual phrases included in puzzles. I am quite sure I have not encountered this in a puzzle before. (I checked xwordinfo.com, and it has appeared twice in the Shortz NYT era. Both since 2012.)
- 31D [Complicated procedure] RIGMAROLE – Why do I want to spell this RIGAMAROLE? Because it can be either!
- 38D [Bygone depilatory] NEET – I obviously don’t use this stuff, although if I keep cycling, I may need to! This product will live forever in crosswords!
- 46D [“That wore me out!”] I’M BEAT – Another smooth phrase. Used only slightly more in NYT than OH, COME NOW!
Another great puzzle. 3.9 stars from me!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 233), “Easy Does It”—Janie’s review
“OH BOY!” In so many fine ways today’s puzzle is not the USUAL. First of all, consider the grid itself, with its double 9-stacks NE and SW. Will they or won’t they be themers? There are two 10-letter words and a central 14, all running vertically. They’ve gotta be themers, right? But then, what to make of those downward-running paired eights NW and SE. Themers or not? (Plus, there are two more eights…) Only by solving do the answers become clear. But darned if I was aware of the emergence of any theme at all as I was solving—and with all that strong, long fill, I thought maybe we were getting an “easy” themeless. While the reveal at 36D told me otherwise, it still took me some time to make it work. When the light bulb went on, however, I had one very happy “aha” moment.
Here’s the game: The themers are found only in the vertical fill. So those 9-stacks? Nuh-uh. But only one of each eight pair—plus the two 10s and the 14. That reveal at 36D is [DUMB DOWN], meaning to [Oversimplify…and a hint to the puzzle theme]. Each of the other DOWNward-reading themers is a lively two-word compound or name, whose second part can be preceded by the word DUMB—yielding a new set of phrases, equally lively (or maybe even better). Behold as:
- 3D. [The “sweetest flower,” to Brontë] BLUEBELL –> dumbbell. But no dumbbell Miss Emily B (nor her sibs)! Here’s her BLUEBELL tribute.
- 26D. [Cher/Cage romantic comedy of 1987] MOONSTRUCK –> dumbstruck. This seems like the right place to mention that cagey [Cage piece] clue. My first thought went to composer John Cage, but while 4’33” would occupy the three squares allotted for the answer, the numeric approach wasn’t gonna fly. Nic Cage? Again, no (but I loved how he showed up in this theme clue). The answer, of course, is RIB. In a puzzle that celebrates oversimplifying, there’s me, overthinking yet again… ;-)
- 14D. [Bistro worker who’s putting on airs?] SINGING WAITER –> dumbwaiter. And that is one terrific clue, “airs” being a quaint kind of word for “songs” (and dumbwaiter being a quaint [and practical!] kind of way to move food, e.g., between floors).
- 8D. [Colts quarterback who’s a Stanford alum] ANDREW LUCK –> dumb luck. The impressive (and not remotely DUMB) Mr. Luck is entirely new to me. Then again, probably the only Indianapolis Colts quarterback I know of is Peyton Manning. Now if we’re talkin’ the Baltimore Colts…
All of that great theme fill (and theme-fill subset), and there’s still a lotta great, well-clued long fill to go. There’s the [World’s fastest man] cluing USAIN BOLT and [Went overboard], having nothing to do with jumping ship but instead—in the “was excessive” sense—cluing PILED IT ON. The late Lehman Engel, Broadway music director and founder of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, used to say (disdainfully) of over-written theatrical moments: “It’s like piling Damon on Pythias.”
[Took a few courses?] has nothing to do with getting educated and all to do with the fact that someone ATE SUPPER. Now Wile E. Coyote may be a CRAFTY sort, but anyone who knows Liz at all (and her subscribers certainly do) knows that she’s rather a CRAFTY person herself—a gifted needle-worker and calligrapher. Which is why I loved seeing the somewhat self-referencing STITCHERY [Embroidered samplers and the like] and PEN POINT [Ink flow site] in the grid. Other good longer fill comes to us through HOSPITAL (leavened by its new-life promoting clue [Delivery room site], STOCKADE and UMBRELLA (which many folks in sunny climes do use as a [Sun block?]).
The grid also boasts open corners NE and SW, filled with triple sixes and including colorful fill like BLOTTO and BRATTY, TAKE IN (as in [Hoodwink]) and “NOT NOW…” But my fave sixes would have to the more central, horizontally-placed A-TEAMS, AKIMBO, IN-LAWS (those non-exchangeable [Wedding day acquisitions]) and SNUGLI, the still-so-hip [Baby carrier brand].
The one thing that raised a flag for me? The [Slug back?] FEST pairing. We saw this identical combo back in July—and I wrote about it then. I think that with question marked clues, it’s best to use them once and then find another approach. Certainly, (considerably) more breathing time between iterations of higher-profile clue/fill combos would be appreciated. But that’s my only beef—and (to mix my metaphors…) if that’s my only beef, them’s pretty small potatoes!
Til next week, folks: keep solving. It’s the really well-made puzzles like this one, with its richly layered solving experience, that keep us sayin’ “more, please”!
Sam Trabucco’s Buzzfeed crossword, “Firm Raker”—Ben’s review
Now that it seems to be finding its footing, I’m finding that I’m really enjoying the Buzzfeed crossword. The fill’s taking a nice section of crossword standbys and mixing them with enough material with a pop/internet culture bent, and the clues are finding the right voice to be funny and different enough from your standard newspaper crossword. This week’s Tuesday is no exception, with a nice riff on a standard theme:
- 18A: Animated film where the main character is an Afghan that’s sick of being walked all over? — A RUG’S LIFE
- 23A: Animated film where the main character journeys to the excavation site of a Roman emperor’s corpse and learns a little something along the way? — FINDING NERO
- 39A: The producer of 18A, 23A, 49A, and 56A…or, when you say it out loud, what each answer does to one of the characters from the original movie? — PIXAR
- 49A: Animated film about a doorman who’s always reminding people that the elevator doesn’t work from the first floor? — TRY STORY TWO
- 56A: Animated movie about the boring routine of the microbes that live around road indentations? — INSIDE RUT
I know I just said that the cluing seems to be hitting a happy medium on wordiness and humor, and I’m about to be a hypocrite, because these theme clues were not my favorite, you guys. Most are just a tad too wordy, and it loses the humor in the eventual answer. Nice diverse selection of Pixar movies, though! Old and new period well represented
Other clues I liked:
- 22A: Speaker of “at this stage of my life, aren’t I a little too prim and proper for all that ice bucket water dumping” — PALIN (I looked up this exact quote in hopes this was something Michael Palin had jokingly said during ALS Challenge mania last year. Alas.)
- 32A: Condition that can precede A, B, or C — HEPATITIS (I don’t know what it says about me that I didn’t even second-guess myself on this clue)
- 67A: Pearl necklace material that isn’t pearl — SEMEN (I initially tried to make SPERM work here at first because apparently I assume the BuzzFeed crossword is going to be polite? And that SPERM is somehow more polite than SEMEN? I don’t know, you guys. I don’t know.)
- 35D: Card in a reading I once paid for as a joke, but which ACTUALLY WORKED — TAROT (I once had a tarot reading done with Cards Against Humanity cards. It was…interesting.)
- 46D: Portmanteau coined by Tyra Banks — SMIZE (This is smiling with your eyes. DUH.)
I’m not sure how, but both the clue and answer for 58A, “Just super duper pooper scooper!”‘s A-OKAY rubbed me the wrong way. I also thought that the clue for 48’s HOSER didn’t need to give two examples of words that are one letter away. Don’t give your trivia question all the way away – let it still be a challenge! All in all, a pretty good puzzle, although some overlong theme cluing eflated what was a pretty good puzzle, otherwise.
Clue that sent me down a YouTube wormhole: 51D’s clue for STUNK (“Performed in a way that made your parents leave your school play in the middle of your solo :\”) made me think of the scene from the MST3k for Pod People:
By the way, they’re kickstarting a return of the series! As someone who grew up on this show as a proud export of his home state, I’m hoping they can do a full 12 episodes again.
Todd McClary’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Official Opening”—Ade’s write-up
Hello everyone! I hope you’re doing amazing, and also hope you had a pretty good time solving today’s crossword, brought to us by Mr. Todd McClary. In it, common phrases are altered by adding the letters “REF” to the beginning of each, creating some official-sounding puns.
- REFACE BANDAGES (16A: [Improve the surfaces of medical dressings?]) – From “Ace bandages.”
- REFILL AT EASE (28A: [Casually tend to a diner’s empty glass?]) – From “Ill at ease.”
- REFOLD MASTER (46A: [Fix the original version of an origami design?]) – From “Old Master”
- REFUSE THE FORCE (58A: [Turn down an opportunity to be a Jedi knight?]) – From “Use the force.”
Had a slow start to the grid in the northwest, but it didn’t take long for things to kick into HIGH GEAR for me (10D: [It’s engaged for maximum speed]). After more hopping around the grid, actually got a foothold right in the middle and the gimme entry of LOUISA (30D: [______ May Alcott]). Everything just bloomed from that entry, in every direction. There’s the reference to a basketball player as CAGER, something I either wish goes away or something I’ll bring back into the sports lexicon when I do a couple of basketball broadcasts this season (17D: [Slam-dunking athlete]). The other day, I saw a lady sporting FLIP-UPS on her glasses and stared for about five seconds (42D: [Hinged sunglass attachments]). Seeing that made me think of Dwayne Wayne, Kadeem Hardison’s character on A Different World. Remember him?
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SLATER (4D: [Christian of Hollywood]) – I know you’ve been waiting for this, surfing fans. Professional surfer Kelly SLATER is an 11-time Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP, now called World Surf League) World Tour champion, with his first championship coming in 1992 at age 20, and his most recent championship coming in 2011 at age 39. Slater is widely considered one of the greatest surfers of all time, and I wish I knew more about surfing to tell you more about him. Maybe someone can chip in on the comments, if you have any Kelly Slater stories.
See you on the top of the hump tomorrow for Hump Day! Have a great rest of your Tuesday until then!