David Kahn’s New York Times Crossword, “In Character”—Amy’s write-up
In each of these eight theme answers, a Shakespearean character’s name appears in the circled letters, and the full answer essentially serves as a clue for the name. The clue given is [See blurb], and if you’re like me, you didn’t read the blurb/notepad entry. (It basically says what I said in sentence 1.)
- 23a. [See blurb], COMRADE OF MERCUTIO, Romeo. Not typically called a “comrade,” but we’ll go with it.
- 31a. BANQUET GHOST, Banquo. It’s been decades since I read Macbeth. There’s a banquet involving Banquo? Is this key to the plot?
- 45a. ELDERLY MONARCH, Lear.
- 62a. SCHEMER AGAINST CAESAR, Casca.
- 69a. LOVE INTEREST OF OLIVIA, Viola.
- 90a. EVIL ANTAGONIST, Iago. This answer/clue phrase is awfully nonspecific.
- 103a. MACABRE THANE, Macbeth.
- 115a. UNHAPPY MALCONTENT, Hamlet. I’m sorry, is it possible to be a happy malcontent?
I give the theme about 3.6 stars. Is 126 theme squares pretty heavy for a 21x puzzle? Feels like the long theme answers crowd the grid. There are some nice bits in there—ORRIN HATCH, GO ROGUE, RAMONES, AUTOSTRADA, VOICE ACTOR—but for me, they were overshadowed by the blah bits throughout. Your EMOTER, AHEMS, ELOI, EELED, that sort of fill.
Three more things:
- 103d. [Some electrical plugs], MALES. Please show me an electrical plug that is “female” (i.e., has holes rather than prongs). Shouldn’t the clue be [Some electrical connectors]?
- 9a. [Snap], FOTO. I don’t know anyone who uses foto in English. In German, a photo is das Foto, but not in English. Why not clue it as a foreign word if you simply must include it in the grid?
- 1d. [Rude thing to drop], F-BOMB. It’s not always rude. Sometimes it’s entirely warranted, or cathartic. There’s a good group blog called Strong Language, with posts written by a range of contributors including linguist/puzzler Ben Zimmer, naming consultant Nancy Friedman, dictionary people, etc. Check it out.
3.4 stars overall from me.
Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Bull Session”—Andy’s review
First of all, thanks very much to Jenni for filling in for me last week!
Now, a warning: I don’t think I can quite be impartial about this puzzle. It’s got the same theme as my very first published puzzle (co-authored with Will Nediger)–a puzzle that ran in the LAT about 3.5 years ago–and it shares a couple of theme entries with both that puzzle and the puzzle that ran in the NYT a month later with the same theme. Impressively, most of these theme answers are original (but of course I like my puzzle way better).
I think the theme is intended to be phrases with a “bull” sound, usually represented as “ble,” added:
- 11a, HUMBLE BUG [Lowly glowworm?]. Humbug.
- 23a, GOBBLE SMACK [Turkey’s affectionate peck?]. Gobsmack. This one (as well as the others that have double-b’s) I take issue with, since phonetically it’s just the “ull” sound that’s added, rather than the whole “bull” sound. In my and Will’s puzzle, we got around that by simply making the theme “adding the letters BLE each time.” There’s one theme entry that doesn’t do that in this puzzle–namely, 112-Across. Kyle Dolan’s NYT puzzle worked the same way as ours.
- 36a, MALIBU RUMBLE [Beach brawl?]. Malibu® Rum. Will and I chose RUMBLE RUNNER; Kyle Dolan chose RUMBLE PUNCH.
- 41a, HUBBLE CAP [Lens cover for a low-earth orbiter?]. Hubcap. This is the theme entry all three puzzles shared.
- 65a, AY, THERE’S THE RUBBLE [“Those are stone fragments, all right”?]. Ay, there’s the rub. Kyle Dolan had THERE’S THE RUBBLE also.
- 88a, SKI BUMBLE [Mogul mishap?]. Ski bum. Kyle Dolan had BUMBLE RAP.
- 91a, SPONGE BOBBLE [Slip while washing dishes?]. Spongebob (Squarepants).
- 112a, STABLE ALERT [Warning about an escaped horse?]. Stay alert. This base phrase doesn’t feel quite as strong as the rest, and as I said above, if the theme was spelling-based rather than phonetic then this entry breaks the theme constraint.
- 119a, NOBLE EXIT [Henry VI’s “O, God forgive my sings, and pardon thee!”?]. No Exit. Kyle went with NOBLE NONSENSE, while Will and I favored NOBLE MAN’S LAND.
Nine theme entries is a ton, and they’re all really nice, except for the minor theme inconsistencies I mentioned above. The triple-stacks of nine-letter entries in the NE and SW were fun, and I also really liked CO-WINNER and THE SAME as fill. By contrast, there were a few unpleasant short entries; the one that stuck out most to me was A MOI crossing ROB’T and the singular PAGO in the NW. The rhyming MERES, BRER, AIR, and ETAGERE all in the NE made me laugh.
Something feels wrong about calling TAHITI [Gauguin’s island retreat]. Reductive, maybe, like Tahiti was simply Gauguin’s playplace rather than a place with native inhabitants and culture. Also, referencing the film version of DR. LAO without comment is a risky proposition, given the film’s use of yellowface (Tony Randall, the star of the film mentioned in the clue, plays Dr. Lao, a Chinese man). The politics of the film are obviously very complicated; I might’ve just stuck with the book reference, even if it made the clue harder.
Until next time!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post, “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” — Jenni’s writeup
“Captain Obvious” takes well-known sayings literally, with very amusing results.
- “___, it will be nighttime” – AT THE END OF THE DAY
- “___: You can see it in slow motion right when the wide receiver grabs that football” – HERE’S THE CATCH (Evan has been studying at the Peter Gordon school of long clues)
- “___, you will not have shown any sign of embarrassment before” – AT FIRST BLUSH
- “___, remove all but the last five pages of ‘Les Miserables’ ” – TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT
- “___, and then I won’t have that object in my possession” – TAKE IT FROM ME
- “___, there is physical space separating you and me” – JUST BETWEEN US
- “___, I recommend sobbing noisily” – FOR CRYING OUT LOUD
All the theme phrases are in the language. It’s a fresh theme idea (at least I don’t remember seeing it before, and it’s well-executed). As I said, fun!
A few other things:
- 1A and 1D set us up to relax with “Lounge in the hot tub” and “Hot tub setting” for SOAK and SPA. Sounds good to me. Let’s go.
- “Chef’s cover” are LIDS and “Chef’s cover” is APRON at 7D and 31A. I was looking for TOQUE.
- While I didn’t find a toque, I thought of taking a TOKE when I saw REEFER at 101D, clued as “Pot stick?”.
- “Pablo Neruda’s ‘__ to the Onion’ ” is a fresh (!) clue for ODE. I like the poem, too.
- “Bomb built in the ’50s” isn’t a nuclear weapon but an EDSEL.
- I love the word EVENSONG (“Vespers prayer” at 57A). I’ve never attended a vespers service and I don’t know the prayer. The word is peaceful and evocative. It makes me think of this poem by Jane Kenyon; I often use the Kenyon poem in place of the asher bidvaro prayer when I lead Friday night services. Looks like someone else does, too.
- Any day I have a reason to link to a Tom LEHRER song is a good day. Here’s the Masochism Tango (see 10D).
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Fabrication” — pannonica’s write-up
An apocryphal [Accident report …] in four convenient 21-letter segments. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE GUY | WHO FELL IN THE MACHINERY | AT AN UPHOLSTERY FACTORY ? | HE IS NOW IN FULL RECOVERY. (27a, 49a, 78a, 98a)
If you aren’t the type who cottons to puns, I would doubt you’ll be swayed by what Hex tilled here. Whether they nailed it or not is the solver’s to determine in the final analysis.
- Was nice to have what was a gimmeforme right off the bat with 1a [Noted subject of Andrew Wyeth] HELGA.
- In the same corner, I was only moderately acquainted with the [Mountain ash] ROWAN tree, which seems to be quite popular in folk tales and folk art. (23a)
- Fantasy race twofer with Wells’ ELOI and Tolkien’s ENTS. Eesh. (2d, 87a)
- 46a [In-the-bathtub noise] SLOSH. Strange, aside from inebriate connotations I think of it exclusively as a verb (motion) rather than a noun (sound), but can easily appreciate how it can be both.
- 84a [George who was really Mary Ann] ELIOT. Evans.
- 117a [Disco singer Leo] SAYER. His heyday was undoubtedly the late 1970s and early ’80s, but is he best known as a disco artist? I’m a bit reluctant to investigate that.
- 5d [Not once] AT NO TIME, 77a [At any point] EVER, and sure-why-not-let’s-add-even-though-it-isn’t-necessarily-chronological 28d [To the point that] UNTIL.
- Fortunate partial at 72d [ -lance (pit viper)] FER-DE. I say fortunate because, despite the general undesirability of partials (not to mention hyphenated ones), it offers the opportunity to mention so many cruciverbal staples. Both PIT and VIPER are common, it’s the title of of the first REX Stout NERO WOLFE novel, and then of course there’s American composer FERDE GROFÉ. Fer-de-lance translates literally from the French to ‘iron of the spear’ (i.e.,, spearhead). Finally, there’s the the genus name, BOTHROPS; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that one in crosswords, over and over again.
- Kinda dupey with 68d [Insult-a-thon] ROAST after 8d [Opposites of dashes] MARATHONS in the grid.
- Some nice midlength fill among the downs: MARATHONS, SOTTO VOCE, WHITEWASH, ART CARNEY.
Overall, this one was underwhelming. So-so theme accompanied by merely average ballast fill, with dry cluing.