Sam Ezersky’s New York Times crossword—Matt’s write-up
This is pretty much what I think a freestyle crossword should look like in 2018. I’ve highlighted the entries in the grid I considered to be either marquee or at least very good, ‘marquee’ being the ones where your synapses fire like crazy as you’re filling in its letters. I know you can read but I’ll just type them out so they can be Googled later, plus to emphasize the point that a dozen or more of these is really what makes a themeless puzzle. Once you forgo a theme, you have an obligation for the grid to be full of outstanding entries, like this one: GOON SQUAD, I CALLED IT, MY FAIR LADY, YAKETY YAK, FDRJR, PLAYS GOD, JEWEL, OF SORTS, CARROLL, LOINCLOTH, OH HELL YES, and of course the great BBQ WINGS camouflaged nicely in the middle somewhere, lurking like a crocodile, unlike the old days when we would’ve stuck this at 1-Across because that’s what you did.
Let’s give it the worst-five-entries test to see the price paid for all that good stuff: DAH, IVIE, TFAL, ELIA, APA. That’s not awful, so certainly worth it I’d say. I didn’t cringe at all during my solve, which was: put ACE OF BASE in at 15a. [Pop group with the 1993 #2 hit “All That She Wants”] then 17d. [Tough crowd?] GOON SQUAD tumbled and off to the races. Then a gradual downward-and-rightward cascade of words filled in as is typical.
***Took a good 30 seconds to understand the clue to INFIELD at 10d. [First, second and third place]. Was this a horse-racing reference? Is “place” a typo for “base,” which wouldn’t make sense anyway? Then the a-ha moment — it’s just “place where you’d find first, second, and third (bases).” Sneaky.
***27: [This blows!] = TNT, SPERM 25d. [Certain bank deposit], and OH HELL YES 65a. [“Abso-freakin’-lutely!”]. This is not your grandmother’s NYT crossword! Or maybe it is, I don’t know your grandma.
***Apt final entry to note: ENDNOW 19a. [Program-closing command on a PC].
I thought this was great, but I unfortunately haven’t been solving as many themelesses as I’d’ve liked over the past few years. Are they all this good now? Scary if so. 4.35 stars.
Harold Jones’s (Mike Shenk’s) Wall Street Journal crossword, “Topic Secret” — Jim’s review
Ironically, the title reveals the secret of the theme at first glance. -IC is added to key words in certain phrases.
- 23a [Boxy reconnoitering drone?] CUBIC SCOUT.
- 25a [Snacks designed to alleviate attacks of anxiety?] PANIC CAKES. Slight inconsistency in that “pancake” is one word.
- 39a [Rouen rubies and Dijon diamonds?] GALLIC STONES
- 44a [Oddly funny group of settlers?] ANTIC COLONY. This is where things start to get wonky. I didn’t feel this entry had any surface sense.
- 66a [Cloth screen that comes down when the play starts?] IRONIC CURTAIN. Same with this one. IRONIC CHEF would make a better entry, though it wouldn’t fit in this space.
- 85a [Designer of megaphones and dunce caps?] CONIC ARTIST. I do like this one.
- 92a [Bozo?] CLASSIC CLOWN. And this one.
- 109a [Lakefront dwelling inhabited by Vulcans?] LOGIC CABIN. I’m okay with this, but the clue feels off. Not all cabins are lakefront. How about [What Spock named his vacation home?]?
- 112a [Bit of baling twine used to hold up one’s britches?] RUSTIC BELT. This works.
On the whole, I didn’t get many thrills out of this add-some-letters theme. There’s nothing really new here and the chuckle-meter barely twitched.
Maybe it was also due to some of the rough fill. Let’s see, there’s LACE INTO [Attack], LAID IN [Saved for the future], SLATY [Bluish-gray], DAYAN [Meir’s minister of defense], POPPA [Old man], and KRAALS [South African villages]. That’s a lot of unpleasantness to have to swallow.
There are good things to be sure: CANADIENS, CHALICE, GUNRACK, BON JOVI, OUR TOWN, PLACE A BET, ARCHAIC, CROSS-TIE, ANOMALIES, GUSTATIVE, ASPHALT, LOCKNUT, and PULSAR. That’s more than I remembered during the solve since I felt like I was just slogging my way through.
Oh, did you notice ETRE [Start of le monologue d’Hamlet] crossing NOT TO BE [Doomed from the start]? Odd that they weren’t cross-referenced.
Clues of note:
- My faves: 21a [American assignment] for SEAT, 115a [It may be brought to order] for MENU, and 121a [Stocking merchandise] for TOYS.
- 28a [Catch up]. ENMESH. As in, “to get caught up in.” Tough one, especially since it’s crossing both LACE INTO and SLATY.
This standard theme only works part of the time and the rough fill in the grid overshadowed the nicer parts. 2.9 stars.
Patti Varol & Doug Peterson’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
These two always make fun puzzles, and this one is no exception. I count 70 words, and if the G at 43A was instead an F, this puzzle would be pangrammatic. I know that is usually not a goal, but I wonder if the constructors realized that? Tons of fun stuff in here, and I may have learned a new tidbit or two, which is always welcome! 4.5 stars for this one!
Some high points:
- 1A [Knot remover] NECK RUB – Oh, THAT kind of knot. I think I need a neck rub right now!
- 18A [One pulling his weight around Christmas] BLITZEN – This took me a minute to figure out, probably because it isn’t December!
- 36A [Single from Dylan’s “Blo0d on the Tracks”] TANGLED UP IN BLUE – I don’t know Bob Dylan songs that well, and I am not sure I get his style. It goes without saying I have never even heard of this song. Perhaps because his heyday was just before my time? This album is from 1975. Here is the song referenced:
- 53A [Brewery sugar] MALTOSE – Beer has sugar??!!
- 4D [Nocturnal Asian snake] KRAIT – This is a rare breed of snake that I don’t encounter too often in puzzles. Or in real life for that matter. But I’ve also never been to Asia!
- 5D [Singer ranked #10 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time] RAY CHARLES – This clue went a loooong way to get to this guy. The clue is tantalizing, since you KNOW it is a mega-famous person.
- 12D [Party bites from the toaster oven] PIZZA ROLLS – I’m lazy: I go the microwave route. I ate TONS of these growing up.
- 30D [Campers anchors] TENT STAKES – I lost a little time because I had SPIKES in here instead.
- 32D [Speakeasy circulator] B-GIRL – Great entry. Don’t see this too often, either. I think this term was thrown around a little in the 80s in rap lingo. I think. I could be wrong!
That is all. Another LAT write-up coming from me on Tuesday.
Lester Ruff’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
I thought I was going to jam through this one like I did before, but I got mired down in a corner, and I will try to explain why in the comments below. If you take one look at the error marks in the grid image, you can easily tell where I had my … issues. There are some nice stacks going on here, but the middle played a little easy with all the shorter words. If I hadn’t done what I did, I might have had a quicker time. But for a Stumper, I am still happy with a sub-15 minute time. Which probably means look out next week! 4.2 stars today.
Those promised notes:
- 1A [Musical set at the Sleep-Tite factory] THE PAJAMA GAME – Great clue. Although I have only vaguely heard of this play. But remember: I am quite uncultured.
- 14A [Travolta, avocationally] AIRPLANE PILOT – I think it is quite well known that he is an accomplished pilot. The hard part, perhaps for some, is knowing what an “avocation” is!
- 23A [Secret identity of “The Amazing Amazon”] DIANA – Fairly sure this is a Wonder Woman reference.
- 32A [“Justice League” director] SNYDER – A tie-in to 23A! Zack Snyder was the director of 300 and Sucker Punch, two films that are quite striking in how they were shot. he is also involved in the upcoming Aquaman movie. It’s the comics movies that make the money!
- 55A [Third Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner directed by Woody] MIRA – This was my big mistake. I had CATE in here, but here Oscar for Blue Jasmine was a Best Actress award, not Best Supporting Actress. Whoops! I think this was my fatal mistake. Mira Sorvino won for Mighty Aphrodite in 1995; I didn’t look up the other two winners.
- 61A [“The Louisville __” (63 Across)] LIP – See next clue.
- 63A [“His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see” speaker] ALI – Great tie-in! Nice that they are consecutive clues and done in a fresh way. Nothing overly complicated, but I found this one of my favorite parts of the puzzle.
- 11D [Slavic alternative to Xander] ALEK – Alexander, get it? Yeah, it took me a while too. Yes, there is another error mark in this entry!
- 45D [“Devil May Hare” antagonist] TAZ – Bugs!
- 47D [Obamas’ youngest, by birth] NATASHA – This must be Sasha’s full name. I don’t think I knew this …
Enjoy your weekend!