Todd McClary’s book of themeless puzzles, Fresh Freestyle Crosswords, is due out in two weeks. The cover puts me in mind of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but no matter. The themelesses I’ve done via Todd’s blog have all been terrific, so if you like crisp freestyle puzzles, I’d encourage you to drop $8.95 on this book.
Mary Lou Guizzo’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
We’d heard a while back that Will’s backlog of puzzles was shrinking, but this puzzle, like the Sunday puzzle, feels like it’s been sitting around for years. The fill is rough, and particularly out of place in a Tuesday grid, while Mary Lou’s recent puzzles have been far more accomplished. What gives?
This six-piece theme has a two-part revealer, which is unusual. 57a. [What 50-Across is … or a clue to 17-, 29-, 35- and 45-Across] clues MIDDLE NAME, and 50a is [Ralph ___ Emerson], WALDO. The other four long answers contain NAME spanning two words:
- 17a. [1961-75], VIETNAM ERA.
- 29a. [Public transportation system in the capital of Catalonia], BARCELONA METRO. Raise your hand if you’d never had any reason to know what the rail system in Barcelona’s called.
- 35a. [National Historic Landmark in Pearl Harbor], ARIZONA MEMORIAL. It’s missing the USS that’s the start of the name.
- 45a. [Marvel Comics superhero wielding a nearly indestructible shield], CAPTAIN AMERICA. The zippiest part of the theme.
Straightforward Tuesdayish theme.
I laughed out loud while solving when I encountered the 5a/6d crossing of AQABA and QOM. A great many newer solvers, particularly those not from the Middle East, may well try out 19 incorrect letters for that crossing before they hit on the Q.
Awkwardnesses: Uncommon abbreviation DESC. Prefixes OVO-, OEN-, and IDIO-. Arbitrary-seeming ONE REED. Plural name AVAS. Uncommonly seen word form EERIER. Obsolete ZIP DRIVE. Weird BAD GIRL. Rhyme scheme ABAA. That’s-not-a-thing-as-clued ABRA ([Start of a magician’s cry], as if you can just lop off the end of a word and clue the first part of it, as if you could clue ILLI as [Start of a Midwestern state]) … although you could clue ABRA as a Pokémon, what with the widespread popularity of Pokémon Go. French ROTI isn’t familiar the way OUI is.
Today I learned: 18d. [French city named after the Greek goddess of victory], NICE. The French language isn’t keen on the letter K, so it’s not Nike.
2.75 stars from me. Musty fill dampens my enthusiasm so much.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 281), “Hey, Mr. Mister!”—Janie’s take
So two weeks ago Liz devoted her theme to an array of women in “Ladies First” and today she gives a shout-out to the men. More specifically to some well-known “misters” (from a great cross-section of interests) whose initials also happen to be “M.R.” Because turn-about is…you know. “Hello,” then, to:
- 17A. MITT ROMNEY [“Turnaround” author and 2012 Presidential candidate]. Politics. Ah, yes. The good old days…
- 24A. MICKEY ROURKE [“Iron Man 2” actor and 2010 Scream Awards for Best Villain]. Film. The guy ya love to hate.
- 49A. MANNY RAMIREZ [Red Sox outfielder and 2004 World Series MVP]. Sports. The guy ya love to love.
- 61A. MARK ROTHKO [Painter whose “Orange, Red, Yellow” sold for over $86 million in 2012]. Fine Arts. Also the subject of the Tony-winning play Red.
Nice taut theme today. Easy, but given the diversity in the theme set, richly evocative. (Ditto the title, which immediately conjured up Marc Blitzstein’s 1936 opera [of sorts…] The Cradle Will Rock in which the corrupt capitalist Mister Mister aims to bring down union organizer Larry Foreman.) Plus—plus—we get a lot of meaty, well-clued fill to up the ante. To wit:
- FIRE ENGINE wittily clued as [It’s bound to go to blazes?]. Ditto the
- SQUARE MEAL [Box lunch?] pair.
- NARRATE and DAGGERS belt the puzzle’s mid-section and RANGERS and HOMERED mark the vertical center. (Manny Ramirez homered a lot in 2004. Whence [among other reasons] that MVP.)
- EVELYN Waugh and YAMAHA pianos—because Brideshead Revisited (among a host of others) and music.
- ENAMOR [Bewitch] and KNEELS [Prepares to propose]. Is there still a lot of that these days? But love is lovely, especially when [Cupid’s missile], his ARROW, really does hit the right party.
Appropriately, we also get a handful of notable women in the mix—in case the testosterone level was too high, what with additional sportsmen Ilia KULIK and LOU Gehrig, Israeli founding father Abba EBAN, Chinese leader [Chiang KAI-shek], actor/musician Jared LETO, and DIDI (who waited for Godot). But the women, the women! On a first-name-basis only, we get actresses TATUM O’Neal and KATE Winslet, author RONA Jaffe, Olympic gymnast NADIA Comaneci, Adele clued by way of her propensity for producing HIT songs, and Renée Fleming, by virtue of her ability to elicit a well-deserved “BRAVA!” in response to just about any given ARIA she may deliver.
Them’s the high-points and I think they do a lot in delivering a fun and solid solve. Did I love AAA [Motorist’s org.] and R-S-T-U [Run before V]? Not so much. And ALKYD [Sticky resin in paint]? “EEK!!!” So thanks for the aural “BOING,” that [Pogo stick sound effect] and the visual summoned by thoughts of Wyoming’s Grand TETON Mountains (which are in the Teton Range) to offset those decidedly weaker items.
Keep solving, have a great week and come back again next time!
Gabriel Stone’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Water You Saying?” — Jim’s review
Water, water, everywhere in today’s grid. We’re given four phrases in which one of the words has been replaced by a body of water in punny fashion.
- 18a [Body of water owned by essayist Charles?] LAKE OF LAMB. Leg of lamb. Ok.
- 25a [Body of water to stash your nest egg in?] SAVINGS POND. Savings bond. Ok.
- 43a [Body of water you can bring to the family?] TAKE HOME BAY. Take-home pay. Yeesh. This has zero surface sense.
- 54a [Concentration on a body of water?] FJORD FOCUS. Ford Focus. I like this one. It even elicited a chuckle.
Hit and miss on these: two of them neutral, one negative and one positive. In effect, a zero-sum theme.
The rest of the grid is AGREEABLE though. GRACEFUL? Not sure I’d go that far, but we get nice fill like SCENARIO, HEALTH CLUB, and VIDEO STORE. I also like the pairing of FLAT TIRES with the clue for TRUNK at 41a [Jack’s place]. Less interesting is AFORE crossing AFIRE, but other than that, the grid is very clean.
Fave clue: 54a. The [Org. that may say no to drugs] is the FDA. Cute.
Jeff Chen’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “And That’s That” —Ade’s write-up
Good day, everyone! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Jeff Chen, features four theme entries, with the first three ending in letters that, when standing alone and then put together, form a phrase (The last word) that describes the fourth theme entry, FINAL SAY (63A: [What someone in charge gets…and what finishes 17-, 29-, and 48-Across]).
- ABSINTHE (17A: [Relative of Pernod])
- HAVING A BLAST (29A: [Hugely entertained])
- SAMURAI SWORD (48A: [Warrior’s curved blade])
I’m pretty sure it was through crosswords that I first knew MESMER a) existed, and b) was the eponym that brought us the word “mesmerize” (66A: [Hypnosis pioneer]). Guess I didn’t study enough psychology in school to get the point when Mesmer was discussed. Oh, and just for good measure, there’s IN A TRANCE in the grid as well to emphasize the hypnotic nature of this puzzle (11D: [Hypnotized]). Didn’t watch Monday Night Football since I’m a sad New York JET (40A: [Get going, in slang]) fan and knew they would have their butts kicked, and that makes me long for the days when the TUNA coached them and led us thisclose to the Super Bowl in 1998 (68A: [“The Big ____” (Bill Parcells’s nickname)]). The four clues I mentioned above are, at least, two pairs of entries that you can, in some way, make a correlation with each other. WEIRD, HUH (4D: [“Have you ever seen anything so strange?”])? Well, maybe not. What wasn’t weird was some of the real good full in the grid, including GIN JOINT (26D: [Term for a bar mentioned in “Casablanca”]) and NIGHT OWL, which describes me 100 percent (22D: [Person often up in the wee hours]). Oh, and there’s two African references in the grid: UGANDA (16A: [Country bordering Lake Victoria]) and IBOS (28D: [Some Nigerian tribesmen]). What’s with the Ibos getting all the love in crosswords?!? What about the Yoruba tribe, which is my background?!?!?!?!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: CURAÇAO (8D: [Liqueur sharing a name with an island]) – Over the past 20 years, a good number of Major League Baseball players born on the island country of CURAÇAO have made an impact on the game. Probably them most recognizable of those players in Andruw Jones, who, 20 years ago and at age 19, became the youngest player to ever hit a home run in the postseason. He also hit home runs in his first two World Series at bats, doing so for the Atlanta Braves against the New York Yankees in the 1996 Fall Classic. Following in Jones’ lead, players like Jonathan Schoop of the Baltimore Orioles and Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers are also Curaçao-born players making an impact in MLB.
See you at the top of the hump on Wednesday!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Will Ya Look at the Time?” – Derek’s write-up
What seemed like a fairly run of the mill theme got extremely clever with the last entry! Here are the theme entries, which will explain why:
- 17A [Vessel even smaller than one for shots?] MINUTE GLASS
- 32A [Component of a restaurant’s meat-eating challenge?] SECOND STEAK
- 35A [“I like 5 p.m. better than 11 p.m. for news”?] HOUR OPINION
- 53A [What the other three theme entries do?] CHANGE HANDS
So from the title, I figured we were just dealing with arbitrary units of time, but then I realized these are all of the hands one might see on an analog watch or clock! Not too familiar with a minute steak, but an hourglass and a second opinion are all quite common. Hmm, steak … getting hungry again! For me, a nice “a-ha!” moment there, even though it may have been more obvious to most of you. 4.3 stars today for a puzzle filled with lively entries. Here are some:
- 15A [Where tigers may be housed] IN A ZOO – I made this harder than it was!
- 26A [“Let It Go” singer] ELSA – From that darned Disney movie Frozen! My son keeps calling this character “Anna!”
- 27A [Gallagher of Oasis] NOEL – One of the better bands I remember hearing. Too bad they didn’t last long. A fave of mine:
- 62A [Website specializing in the vintage and handmade] ETSY – I don’t think I have ever visited this site! I see it in puzzles all the time!
- 2D [Portishead genre] TRIP HOP – Leave it to Matt to put in a hip word I have never heard of in virtually every puzzle he makes! Here’s a sample of their music, which is definitely different:
- 11D [French explorer who named Louisiana] LASALLE – There are actually a lot of French names all over the upper midwest where I live. Lafayette, IN, is not too far away, and Detroit is also a French name, among many others.
- 24D [Bond, before Craig] BROSNAN – I have seen all the Brosnan bond films; still need to see Spectre!
- 30D [Cable channel launched in 1979] ESPN – Oh yeah!
- 35D [Spiral-shaped] HELICAL – Great word. Proud of myself for getting it immediately!
- 36D [Get rusty] OXIDATE -I had OXIDIZE in at first! I was close!
Fun puzzle! Now it’s time to watch the Cubs!! Have a great week!
Agnes Davidson & C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Another clever yet simple theme this Tuesday. Each phrase is in the format “__ a __” with the second blank being a body part. They even go in order from the top of the body down! Here’s the list:
- 18A [Mug for the camera] MAKE A FACE
- 23A [Pitch in] LEND A HAND
- 37A [Do the slightest thing] LIFT A FINGER
- 50A [What the winning quarterback may do as time runs out] TAKE A KNEE
- 57A [Theatrical “Good luck!”] BREAK A LEG!
As stated, clever and fun! And lots of fun entries as well! 4.3 stars for this one!
Some of my faves in this puzzle:
- 1A & 66A [Crisp serving with pâté] MELBA TOAST – Nicely done! And making me hungry …
- 33A [Road problem needing patching] POTHOLE – It’s almost pothole season here in the snow belt!
- 59A [“Really, bro?!”] AW, MAN! – I like this one a lot! Always good to see natural examples of slang in a grid!
- 1D [Granola kin] MUESLI – This is NOT making me hungry!
- 11D [Lounge with keyboard music] PIANO BAR – Anyone else have Billy Joel’s Piano Man swirling through their head when they solved this entry?
- 21D [Stimulated, as one’s appetite] WHETTED – Not seen too often in puzzles, despite its plethora of common letters!
- 37D [Plant that is poisonous to livestock] LOCOWEED – I don’t think I knew this. Then again, I have no livestock!
- 38A [Rowlands of “The Notebook”] GENA – There are very few famous Genas with this spelling! (Actually, is there another one?? GENA Lee Nolin maybe?)
- 52D [Sotomayor colleague] KAGAN – There is definitely going to be some Supreme Court newbie after this election!
Got behind today with work! Haven’t had to say that in a while. Had to get this post done before the CUBBIES game tonight!! Have a great week!
NYT: I liked it better than most, maybe because the AQABA/QOM Combo was a no brainer for me, but mostly because I liked the concept of the theme, the literal MIDDLE NAME. I don’t have a middle name. Makes me feel lighter:)
I do see that the fill had issues.
Surprisingly QOM was a gimme for me. I must have encountered it in another puzzle (this is the 7th time it’s appeared in a NYT puzzle).
Also, comments from Ms. Guizzo regarding today’s puzzle:
“I don’t recall many other details as this puzzle was one of my early submissions, dating back to 2013. Fill I would try to avoid today includes the plural AVAS, foreign ROTI, crosswordese OEN, ESME and EMAJ, prefix IDIO, abbreviated DESC and the partial IM A.”
Thanks for passing along the constructor’s comments on the fill. I don’t get why the puzzle was accepted with that fill, nor why the puzzle took three years to see publication.
It doesn’t look like the Jonesin’ puzzles are being posted to the Google group any longer. Can someone share how to access those now? Thanks.
See the “Today’s Puzzles” link in the bar at the top of this page? Click there for puzzle download links.
Re: NYT : I know it would have been difficult to construct, but shouldn’t “middle name” be, you know, in the middle of the answer?
A 10-letter entry can only be centered in a grid with an even number of squares across, and there has to be a pretty compelling reason to allow a grid to be 14×15 or 16×15.