James Mulhern’s NY Times crossword – Matt’s review
Matt here, filling in for the still-Christmasing Amy.
Unusual grid, with a diagonally oriented racetrack in the center and two pit stop areas on the side. Took me almost 30 seconds to get my first letter, the X shared by FT DIX at 17a. [N.J. home of the “Ultimate Weapon” Momument] and MAXIM at 5d. [Popular pinup publication]. Maybe the Saturday NYT could use a Gorky reference over the lad mag next time, just to keep the place classy.
Moved my way steadily northeast, noting the many excellent entries en route (TROJAN WAR, ILLUMINATI, JET LI, LIFE COACH, CENTER ICE, RIEMANN). In fact the whole NE quadrant of the grid is a thing of beauty; it doesn’t have a single subpar entry, and even NOR gets a nice clue with [“… confirm ___ deny …”].
Continuing clockwise around the racetrack it took me a while to get RIVERDANCE clued as [Traveling show with the number “Trading Taps”] since I had misread it as “travel show.” The 5×5+ block in the SE is as good as its twin in the NW, with standout mulitword entries of HEY NOW, SO VERY, and I NEVER. Over in the SE, CASUAL SEX is a good entry made sketchy by the nearby presence of FAT ALBERT.
Finally hit a weakish entry with EERO [First name in industrial design], but that’s not horrible and I was almost done at this point. Clean fill alone is great, but clean fill with a lot of lively vocabulary and high-value letters mixed in? That’s tough to do, but he pulled it off here. 4.40 stars.
Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I thought this might be themed Saturday puzzle, because there are three long answers. I will address all three of them when I list the answers I liked, but suffice it to say they are totally unrelated! (Unless I am totally not getting how they are!) Is this puzzle only 70 words? The grid makes it seem like there are more than that. And with nice, long, lively answers, and the usual smooth LAT fill, I rate this puzzle a solid 4.5 stars. Well done.
Here’s that list of what I like that I mentioned earlier!
- 17A [Condition resulting from oversharing] FACEBOOK FATIGUE – I get this sometimes just from scrolling through my feed!
- 24A [Grouse or carp] KVETCH – Not talking fish here! Isn’t this Yiddish?
- 30A [Graceful] GAINLY – This confused me for a bit, because I somehow had the word GANGLY in my mind instead of GAINLY. Those words are opposites!
- 32A [Noodles and beans dish] PASTA E FAGIOLI – I don’t think I have ever had this, and I certainly have never spelled it! My grid errors you see in the image are from messing up this little area in spelling.
- 52A [Little Johnny Jones, in a George M. Cohan song] YANKEE DOODLE BOY – Awesome. Don’t remember ever seeing this as an entry. Favorite entry!
- 3D [Reggae singer whose name sounds like a beverage] COCOA TEA – Never heard of this fella. Don’t listen to reggae much.
- 8D [“Wait a moment,” to Romeo] SOFT – “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” Nobody speaks like this much anymore….
- 19D [Copenhagen’s ___ Gardens] TIVOLI – Been here. Beautiful!
- 31D [“Song of the Volga Boatmen” refrain] YO HEAVE HO – You know this song. I found I did. Just didn’t know the name of the tune. Here’s an English language version:
- 39D [Michael’s wife in “The Godfather” films] KAY – Kay Adams is the character played by Diane Keaton. I have never seen these movies! I’m checking Netflix…..
Great puzzle. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Lester Ruff’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Yes, 12:30! I had a GREAT night’s sleep, I’m off work until probably Tuesday, and I’ve been exercising! It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t feel as if you’re constantly in a fog!
The puzzle today is a 72-worder, and a common themeless grid design. Is it just easier, or is it the absence of words I don’t know? The fill here seems effortless, and I am rating this 4.7 stars. This grid design is not as difficult to fill as, say, one with stacked 10s or stacked 11s, and yes, the longest grid entry is eight letters, but the smooth fill was enjoyable to solve. I’m ready for Stamford!
- 8A [ Leader of the Frat Pack] STILLER – As in Ben Stiller, not Jerry Stiller!
- 16A [World’s most commonly consumed opiate] CODEINE – This was interesting. I thought it might be heroine, but that is the wrong word!
- 17A [Rock music setting?] TREETOP – Best clue of the puzzle!
- 38A [Appetite enhancer] APERITIF – 38D was either ESTEEMS or ADMIRES, so I immediately thought of APERITIF if ADMIRES was correct. Sometimes your first guess is the right one!
- 51A [Lord Rataxes, in the Babar stories] RHINO – I read these books, but that was 40 years ago.
- 55A [Some wedding party members] MATRONS – I had PATRONS in there at first. Was wondering what a PINI was at 55D!
- 26D [Series that won the most Primetime Emmys] FRASIER – This one didn’t come until I had a few letters crossing it. Makes sense, but I was not a big fan of the show.
- 28D [Uber’s adversaries] TAXIS – There is limited cab service here in Indiana, and I believe we DO have Uber drivers here!
- 36D [Staple of Road Runner cartoons] SIGHT GAG – This one was also a good clue.
- 39D [Beethoven or Brahms] PIANIST – It never ceases to amaze me how Beethoven could play the piano even though he was deaf!
- 44D [Word from the Latin for “donkey-like”] ASININE – Great clue here as well. I smiled once I figured it out!
- 61D [___.com (cellular service site)] ATT – I know this because I have AT&T. Thinking of a switch to Sprint…
A great Saturday Stumper, and a great time for me! Enjoy your weekend, everybody!
Yaakov Bendavid’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “To the Nth Degree” — pannonica’s write-up
Not a fancy theme, but a welcome and well-made one. Rebuses with the initial sextet of ordinals. The revealer is right in the center, vertically: [What the theme answers are in, or what they contain] ORDER. Yes, indeed they are.
Rather than the fully spelled-out versions I’ve used the numerals plus suffixes, for legibility.
- 28a. [New York’s Bravest, e.g.] FIRST RESPONDERS. That’s the official motto of the city’s fire department. The police are New York’s Finest, the sanitation department consists of New York’s Strongest, and the corrections departmenteers are New York’s Boldest.
6d. [“Go ahead”] YOU FIRST.
- 42a. [Gun owner’s protection] SECOND AMENDMENT.
1d. [Place in a race] COME IN SECOND.
- 44a. [“A Tyrant … unfit to be the ruler of a free people,” according to a 1776 declaration] GEORGE THE THIRD.
21d. [A composer may use it to convey sadness] MINOR THIRD.
- 73a. [When a fearless coach might go for it] FOURTH AND INCHES. Feel free to discuss the minutial merits of the clue in the comments, by all means.
73d. [Old mailing category that included library books] FOURTH CLASS.
- 79a. [Clams up in court] PLEADS THE FIFTH. That’s the FIFTH Amendment, similar to the themer at 42-across.
82d. [Moniker of Pete Best or Brian Epstein] FIFTH BEATLE. Since Best, a drummer, was straight-up replaced by Ringo Starr, I don’t care for his inclusion here, even though there’s ample evidence (including Wikipedia) for him under that rubric. Conversely, Stu Sutcliffe, the original bassist, was in the band when it was an actual quintet. And later, Billy Preston contributed a lot of piano (as well as receiving songwriting credit) to the band. See the rogue’s gallery here.
- 92a. [“The Pastoral Symphony”] BEETHOVEN’S SIXTH.
95d. [Best bench player, in the NBA] SIXTH MAN.
Apologies, but I have some obligations today and can’t devote too much additional time to this write-up.
- There were a lot of good clues and fill and cluechoes or callbacks (e.g., 58d [Choir division] ALTOS, 11d [Bass offering] LOW NOTE, 108a [Bass offerings] ALES.
- Weirdest-looking answer: 25a [Center of a famous palindrome] I ERE I (able was … saw Elba).
- Serious staggered stacking across the entire middle swath—and STAGGERS is even an entry there (48a).
- Possibly toughest crossing: 2d [Airline to Cartagena] AVIANCA / 37a [Co. that makes bar code scanners and point-of-sale terminals] NCR
- 38a [Secret, e.g.] DEODORANT; DEGREE is another, but to the best of my knowledge they don’t offer an Nth variety.
- Most arcane fill: 97a [Gold lion for House Lannister, e.g.] SIGIL. 106a [Plane that needs little runway, briefly] STOL (short take-off and landing).
- Most dubious adjectival inflections: 32a [Less logical] INANER, 71d [Worthy of inclusion in a bibliography] CITABLE.
- Finally! A relief from the seemingly endless stream of OTTER clues describing the mustelids as ‘playful’, 45d [Marten’s cousin].
And I’m off!
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Week Spots”—Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everybody! I hope your Christmas Day went fantastic, for those who celebrate. And if you didn’t celebrate it, I hope you had as fantastic of a day. Speaking of days, our puzzle for today, brought to us by Martin Ashwood-Smith, has all of the days covered, with the first seven (SEVEN!) theme entries being a word or words in which the abbreviation of each day of the week is embedded inside of it. The eighth theme, DAY, is the reveal and ties it all together (66A: [One of seven week parts (whose abbreviations appear in the indicated answers)]).
- THAT’S UNFAIR (17A: [Cheating victim’s shout (#1)])
- EDMONTON (21A: [Capital of Alberta (#2)])
- STU ERWIN (28A: [He played Joe Palooka in the 1934 film “Palooka” (#3)])
- ARE WE DONE (35A: [“Finished yet?” (#4)])
- TOM THUMB (46A: [Diminutive folktale hero (#5)])
- PAN FRIES (51A: [Potatoes prepared in a skillet (#6)])
- COMPENSATES (56A: [Reimburses (#7)])
I took Spanish for three years in high school, and still remember a good deal of it, but one thing I didn’t get to study (or remember) were the names of states in Spanish, so good to learn some new words in the clue to ESTADO (44A: [Luisiana or Misisipí]). In one way, Mississippi would be so much easier for us writers if it was spelled in the way it is in Spanish. But then again, we’d be robbed of the rhyme time that allows us to spell the state so easily in English: “M-I-S-S…I-S-S…I-P-P-I.” Speaking of state names, very nice clue to KIOWA (26D: [Plains Native American tribe that becomes a state if you drop the first letter]). Oh, and the popularity of YouTube has definitely made me forget about the U-TUBE that’s seen in chemistry labs (14D: [Lab item that sounds like a popular website]). Literally just googled “U-Tube” and all I got were links to YouTube. So can we assume that YouTube would be a main culprit in the decrease of the number of youth that end up not becoming future chemists? Maybe.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: RYDER CUP (36D: [Coveted golf trophy]) – I’m not going to reinvent the wheel in explaining the RYDER CUP, the international three-day competition between the best golfers of the United States versus the best in Europe, but I will let you know that, before 1979, the competition was between the U.S. vs. Great Britain and Ireland. Because of the dominance the U.S. had since the start of the competition in 1927, golfers that hailed from any part of Europe were included, and the competition became the U.S. vs. Europe. Since then, Europe has had the edge, winning 10 times, with the U.S. winning seven times and one draw. (Europe retained the Ryder Cup after the draw in 1989 because they had won the previous competition in ’87.)
See you all for the Sunday Challenge!