Kameron Austin Collins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
After making this 60-worder, Kameron launched twice-monthly low-word-count crosswords at HIGH:low (free! plug in your email address to get the puzzles). I’m a satisfied subscriber.
Now, oftentimes a puzzle with a word count this low will be jammed with compromise fill—awkward abbreviations and word fragments, roll-your-own word formations, outright obscurities. Here, we have ICER, which I find dull and sorely overused … and the rest of the fill really wouldn’t be out of place in a 72-worder. Kameron’s got serious chops.
Favorite fill: “AH, BLISS,” REAGANOMICS, REISSUES (I bought Bizarre Crossword Variants, which contains reissued variety puzzles that are delicious), BELLEVUE, SARDINE CAN, MR. FANTASTIC, LOSE A TURN from Wheel of Fortune, Great Lakes SMELT, PERFIDY, symmetrically placed famous African-Americans ZOE SALDANA and FAMOUS AMOS (okay, so the person is Wally Amos and the cookie brand is Famous Amos), SHREK (much better fill, if you ask me, than the OGRE that’s in so many crosswords), TUCSON, EATS IT, and GOSSAMER. That’s a surprising amount of zippy stuff for a 60-worder. Oh! I missed KINDA SORTA, which might actually be my favorite answer here.
- 7d. [Salty gulp], SEA AIR. Were you thinking of liquids, too? “Brine? Pickle juice? Tomato juice? Clam juice? These don’t fit!”
- 10d. [Wife in John le Carré’s “The Constant Gardener”], TESSA. Didn’t know this one, but it’s a familiar enough name and the crossings were all fair.
- 12d. [John Hancock, notably], SIGNEE. This is a dumb word (completely legit, mind you). If you sign something, you are also a signer. Doesn’t SIGNEE sound like the fan who hands a Sharpie to a star so the star can autograph his or her flesh?
- 21d. [Player of a green alien in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and a blue alien in “Avatar”], ZOE SALDANA. What a colorful clue!
- 33d. [City called “The Old Pueblo”], TUCSON. I had only the O in place (if that) when I filled in the whole answer. Never heard of “The Old Pueblo,” but it seemed to make sense.
Martin Ashwood-Smith & George Barany’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I always enjoy the ambitious stacked crosswords from MAS, and this one is no exception. It was a little harder than usual, but there are a couple of entries in the upper part I was totally unfamiliar with. But having said that, a quad-15 stack in the middle with all relatively gettable entries is quite a feat. If you didn’t notice, to accomplish this the grid is actually 15×16. As long as the newspaper typesetters don’t mind, I don’t either!
There is a fine line between difficult, crosswordese-type entries, and entries it wouldn’t hurt if you were to learn. I don’t really see too much crosswordese in here (ERNE stands out!), but there are a few entries in here that, while difficult, it wouldn’t hurt to learn. I’ve always agreed with the thought that you don’t dumb down your work to your audience, but rather you bring them up to your level. If you’re reading a book and there is a word you don’t know, look it up! So having said that, there are some things that this puzzle taught me, so I am smarter for having solved it!
I am curious as to who did what in this puzzle, but today, there is an interview with George on the web, and he explains some of the co-solving process quite nicely. He also mentions that there are more of these coming, so that is good to hear! This puzzle, with it’s ambitious grid and great fill, gets a 4.6 star rating form me. My minor quibbles will be mentioned below. Here are some of the highs and lows of the puzzle for me:
- 13A [Traffic report source] CAR RADIO – Is anyone else like me, and listen exclusively to satellite radio and/or their phone in the car? I believe there are even traffic stations on XM Radio!
- 16A [“A London Symphony” composer] VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – I will admit: I do not know this composer. That could just be me, though, as I am highly uncultured! This was one of the items I learned from this puzzle!
- 23A [___ Werner, Best Actor nominee for “Ship of Fools”] OSKAR – A tough clue. I believe the Schindler from Schindler’s List is also an OSKAR.
- 28A [Minimal complications] LEAST RESISTANCE – It could still be difficult with a reference to the word “path,” as this phrase is most often used in that way, correct?
- 36A [Landscape brighteners] ORNAMENTAL TREES – Nice.
- 37A [“West Side Story” duet] ONE HAND, ONE HEART – I have seen this movie, but it was ages ago. This is also a song I am not familiar with, but many people may know this musical quite well, so I will admit my own ignorance in this case!
- 38A [Failed big-time] MET ONE’S WATERLOO – Favorite entry of the puzzle! This should have elicited a small grin from each solver!
- 59A [Turkey, mostly] ANATOLIA – Another term for Asia Minor. Yes, my mind was gravitating toward DARK MEAT or something equally gustatorial!
- 1D [Year in the reign of England’s Henry I] MCVI – OK, I hate Roman numeral math clues, and I detest clues that reference a year in a reign. Maybe because I have no idea when Henry I was on the throne! Evidently it at least spanned the year 1106! Again, is my lack of culture to blame? My indifference to British Royalty? My general stupidity??
- 2D [Scott of “Hawaii Five-O”] CAAN – Yes, this is James Caan’s son!
- 8D [Acidic] LOW PH – I had ??WPH, and I thought had made a mistake somewhere!
- 22D [In the style of the 1975 film “Nashville,” say] ALTMANESQUE – I am quite sure this is not in the xwordinfo.com database, but what a great entry!
- 31D [Runs over] ENDS LATE – Good misdirection here, too. My mind was totally elsewhere, like a glass running over…
- 42D [Bantu language] XHOSA – This goes along the lines of something you should learn, if you didn’t know this language already!
A totally fun puzzle. Cannot wait for the next visually pleasing stack from this pair!
Brad Wilber’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Can you say “ouch?!” This puzzle tied me up in knots, and I think my brain actually hurts. Not like a headache, but like a sharp cut! What a difficult puzzle! Maybe I should have run first, but the weather here is not the greatest, so the run will happen around 1 or 2 today. This 70-worder has great fill, but unbelievably difficult clues. You can see in the image all the gray spots in the corners of certain squares; those denote errors! Upper left, once again, was the near the last to fall, upper right was last, while the toehold was gotten in the lower regions. Wildly difficult, but enjoyable nonetheless. A solid 4.4 stars this Saturday morning!
Let’s get right to the commentary:
- 1A [Where you might take a powder] SPICE RACK – I groaned when I finally got this! Favorite of the puzzle!
- 17A [Caruso #1 song of 1918] OVER THERE – Makes sense now; I didn’t know he sang in English! Here is a clip of the song:
- 24A [Athlete who refused to play in Germany after 1993] SELES – This stumped me for a good while. This also makes sense now. She got stabbed there, and I wouldn’t go back and play there either after something like that!
- 29A [Design on some British Airways tailfins] TARTAN – I included a picture of a British Airways tailfin. Is this what is referred to? The definition of tartan describes a design “consisting of stripes of varying width.” Really tough!
- 39A [Its mission includes “to create a more informed public”] NPR – I only listen to the trivia and puzzle shows! I guess those ARE informative…!
- 44A [Sûreté sap] CLOUSEAU – This is where I got the toehold. Always loved the Pink Panther movies!
- 49A [Brass] CHUTZPAH – Or, more specifically, a brass body part (or parts!).
- 59A [16- time screenwriting Oscar nominee] ALLEN – My name in the puzzle! This is not “cousin” Woody, as his real last name is Konigsberg. For the record, he is 3-13 for wins in this category!
- 60A [Sunday driver observed by many] PRO GOLFER – This one is also one of my favorites. Golf is so hard. It’s hard enough for me to hit a golf ball with 5 people watching, let along millions on TV!
- 4D [Wrigley breath-odor neutralizer] CARDAMOM – I had CINNAMON in there at first, but that’s not really an odor neutralizer, is it!
- 5D [Subject of a 2015 jukebox musical] ESTEFAN – I would totally go see this! I loved her music in the 80s and 90s. Shows cancelled due to snow this weekend, though! Here is their official site.
- 10D [Rio areas visited by Pope Francis and Obama] FAVELAS – This word was on the tip of my brain all puzzle, and it finally came late. These will surely be featured in some way when the Olympics are broadcast this summer.
- 23D [Pandora’s box?] RADIO – I get the gist of the clue here, but Pandora is usually played on a smartphone or computer, not a radio, or am I crazy here?
- 34D [Jennifer’s mom on “Friends”] MARLO – I believe this is referencing Marlo Thomas. I was not a big watcher of Friends.
- 40D [Martini & Rossi rival] CINZANO – If you say so! This brand is not familiar to me, but have I mentioned how uncultured I am?
- 51D [Olympic flames are lit at her temple] HERA – I guessed NIKE at first. Oops.
Paula Gamache’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Jay Walking” — pannnonica’s write-up
Each theme answer takes a familiar phrase beginning with the letter J, which has apparently wandered off somewhere, to be replaced with a different letter, with radically altered results.
- 23a. [Mover of a hamster wheel?] PET PROPULSION (jet …).
- 36a. [False prophet?] HACK IN THE PULPIT (Jack-…).
- 49a. [Mantra of the commitment-phobe?] SINGLE ALL THE WAY (jingle …)
- 67a. [Oreo-ology?] DUNK SCIENCE (junk …). A winking crosswordese insider joke?
- 86a. [Hit man’s workplace?] BUMPING-OFF POINT (jumping-off …).
- 95a. [Reaction to a backstabbing baron?] FURY OF ONE’S PEERS (jury …).
- 117a. [Friends-with-benefits understanding?] LUST BETWEEN US (just between us). Kin to the subject of 49a?
D’aw, that’s …
ahem, moving on.
- 3d [Fashion designer Adrienne] VITTADINI, which sounds as if it should be the name of tiny, ankh-shaped pasta.
- 31d/100d [Moon of Saturn] RHEA, HELENE. The former is one of the planet’s major satellites, the latter is one of the unique-to-Saturn trojan moons, associated with Dione, which is comparable to RHEA, though rather smaller. Also, trojan moons are not to be confused with shepherd moons (see 83d [“Shepherd Moons” singer] ENYA). Also, I recommend WG Sebald’s book.
- 41d [Isfahan inhabitants] IRANIS. I’ve probably shared this one before, because it has such a lovely melody, but it was probably via the now-defunct Grooveshark and is hence lost to eternity. And what’s the harm in repetition anyway?
- 85a [Brighton bye-byes] TATAS, 107d [Spare in a boot] TYRES.
- Toughest crossing: 40d [Distiller’s waste] POT ALE, 63a [1968 Julie Christie movie] PETULIA. I’d bet many a solver figured it would be Petunia there, and feel something called potane is reasonable. Incidentally, I’d forgotten about that film and assumed the answer was 1965’s Darling.
You know, I’m just not in the mood to exhaustively hunt around for an enumerate the crosswordese, dubious fill (not much, but E-NOTE (6d) is there), or even the best clues (73d [Common place?] for BOSTON was memorable) and fill. Not even going to make a pro forma stink about my cruciverbal bugaboo ESAI Morales (62d). Overall, the puzzle was fun and engaging, and that’s that.
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Back Cover”—Ade’s write-up
Hello there, everyone! If you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, I hope you’re all doing well and staying safe with the winter storm in full force right now. Funny enough, the theme to today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Ms. Donna S. Levin, is all about what most of us on the East Coast need to find right now, if we haven’t found it already: SHELTER (36A: [Place of refuge, crude forms of which can be found at the ends of 20- and 50-Across and 11- and 28-Down]).
- SEALED SHUT (20A: [Hermetically closed])
- ACID WASHED (50A: [Like some bleached jeans])
- SNOW SHOVEL (11D: [Tool that comes in handy in a blizzard]) – You’re tellin’ me, Donna!
- FAT CONTENT (28D: [It’s lower in skim milk than in whole milk]) – How much milk do you think was scooped up from shelves before this winter storm hit?
Honestly, dropping this puzzle on the day the effects of Winter Storm Jonas really is felt in the U.S. is pretty amazing…and eerie! Had a lot of trouble sussing out STILTED to close out the puzzle (4D: [Affected, in a way]), as a few of the crosses were giving me trouble, including getting that last letter for LOOT (14A: [Boodle]). First time I’ve come across the word “boodle.” Seeing NAPSTER gave me flashbacks of how many songs I downloaded (illegally) during my freshman year in college (41D: [Defunct music-sharing service]). After Napster, I had LimeWire, and I remember all the songs I downloaded from there…and ALL THE VIRUSES AS WELL! LimeWire was a disaster! Actually about to step outside into the foot of snow that’s outside, so hoping I don’t PERISH while I’m out there (29A: [Publish’s alternative, in academia]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SAFETY (26A: [Gridiron two-pointer]) – A SAFETY, where the defense is able to down a play from the offense inside of its own end zone (or the offense commits a penalty in its own end zone or the ball, when possessed by the offense, goes into the end zone and then out of bounds) is a rare occurrence in the game of football, but there have been 10 safeties recorded in the Super Bowl. The latest safety in the Super Bowl actually happened on the first offensive play of the game, when the center snap to Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning went by him and recovered in the end zone by one of his teammates, Knowshon Moreno, in Super Bowl XLVIII in Feb. 2014. The safety also happened to be the fastest score in Super Bowl history, as only 12 seconds had ticked off the clock before the Seattle Seahawks got on the board.
See you all for the Sunday Challenge!