CS 6:25 (J—paper)
Patrick Berry's New York Times crossword
Just before doing this puzzle, I did two Berry puzzles from an '06 Games World of Puzzles—my goodness, how did I leave both a Rows Garden and a Ringside puzzle unfilled?!? Berry's variety grids are always terrific—if you like challenging crosswords and you're not wedded to themes, buy his Puzzle Masterpieces book immediately. And don't be put off by the introduction's claim that the book's puzzles are of Wednesday difficulty—only the snake-grid ones are easyish, and some are beyond Saturday-level. My favorite variety might be Some Assembly Required, which work the jigsaw and crossword parts of your brain in tandem, and the Rows Gardens, in which Across answers intersect with answers that travel hexagonally. The book's an attractive hardcover, which may make you hesitate to write in it—but go ahead and do it. Once the book is in your hands, your pencil will not be able to resist its pull. Shall I give it an Amazon-style rating? Yes: ★★★★★. Crossword books don't get any better than this.
Berry is, of course, also a master at the wide-open themeless grid. His Friday NYT crossword has just 64 words, and holy cow, would you look at that midsection? That fat swath of 7's and 8's marching up the stairs from left to right? That's impressive. I suppose there's some advantage to the easier cluing—why not make such a grid more accessible to a broader cross-section of solvers? But you know me, I like the gnarly clues best. Here are the answers and clues that were right up my alley:
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "If I Could Turn Back Time"
In the six theme entries, Ben has turned back time by flipping an AM or PM into MA or MP:
My favorite clues and fill include [Adjective for some past-their-prime musicians] for BLOATED; the [Fighting words] "oh, IT'S ON"; [Golfer Ernie with his own wine company] provides a bit of trivia for Mr. ELS; [Mark of wit] clues writer TWAIN; [They're usually No. 2's] clues PENCILS, not vice presidents; and [Alexander the Grape, e.g.] is an example of a PUN. This week's Ink Well mystery word is RATINE, or [Rough, loose fabric]. Wow, I don't even recall that one from the heyday of Eugene Maleska. [Banned MLB substance] is the general abbreviation PED, or performance-enhancing drug, rather than a specific steroid or hormone. I didn't know that abbreviation before doing this puzzle.
Ed Sessa's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle,"Storied Institutions"
Greetings, academics! Last week, there wasn't a CHE crossword and this week, there is. What's the deal with the Chronicle's summer publishing schedule? Is it every other week and then a few weeks off in August, something like that? Ah, here's the scoop from chronicle.com: "The Chronicle appears weekly in print except for every other week during June, July, and August, and the last three weeks in December (a total of 42 issues a year)."
The theme this week is fictional schools, and wow, I sure haven't read many of these books set in fictional schools:
In the fill, PECK is clued as [What a bird in the hand might do?]. I beseech you: guard your eyes. [Makes a botch of] clues BLOOPS; while "blooper" is common and there's a baseball usage of this word, I can't say BLOOPS came to me easily. I like the echo between AT BAT and KEPT AT BAY—that T and Y are right next to each other on the keyboard, so it'd be easy to mangle these two. Did you know that the STAR FRUIT, or carambola, is an [Edible Malaysian export]?
Updated Friday morning:
Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Covered with Mud"—Janie's review
Back in May, Randy brought us a puzzle whose theme fill was literally to be found "in a NUT shell," where the first two letters of the theme-phrase were NU and the last was T. Today, we're "covered with MUD," as MU and D surround ("cover") the letters of the theme-phrase. As anyone who enjoys being pampered on occasion can tell you, MUD treatments are not only relaxing, they're refreshing. Ditto this puzzle. Behold:
This puzzle is but one letter shy of a pangram ("J"), and it was really nice to encounter the scrabbly end of the alphabet in its entirety in such lively (and in some cases "street-smart") fill as: BAD VIBES, MEOW clued as [Copy cats?], EXERT, YOU DA MAN (YIKES!), and ZIPPO (which I filled in first with ZILCH).
Other fine fill and/or clues:
Got myself off on the wrong foot by confidently entering SANTA for SATAN (hello again...). Now I know that [OLD NICK] and Beelzebub are one and the same. Ditto the Deuce, the Dickens, Old Harry, Old Ned, Old Scratch, Old Horny, Old Poker, the Old Gentleman and a slew of others. Thus spake Roget.
The reminder of iconic newsman Chet HUNTLEY and the HUNTLEY-Brinkley Report stirred memories of a time when getting the nightly news from unimpeachable sources still mattered (also memories of their classic "Goodnight, Chet," "Goodnight, David," sign-off). And while we're looking at journalism, the puzzle also makes a nod to the dead-tree sort with OP-ED.
One little grid-bit and then ('til Monday) I'm history: the crossing of IRMA and FIRMA.
Robin Stears' Los Angeles Times crossword
A constructing debut for Stears? I think so. Congratulations! I loved unraveling the theme and I admire the theme's execution. Each theme entry has TRY tacked onto the end to completely change the gist of a phrase, and since it's a Friday puzzle, there's no give-away hint anywhere that explains it all. Here are the fun theme answers:
In the fill, I like the French vowel trifecta combo of EAU (51A [__-de-vie: brandy]) and BEAUT (36A [Doozy]). Geography brings us TONGA—5A [Kingdom called the Friendly Islands]—and both ELON and ASHE from North Carolina. The people in the puzzle are mostly familiar to regular solvers, except for 23A [1990s speed skating gold medalist], somebody named KOSS. No relation to the headphones company, I presume, Wikipedia tells me that "Johann Olav Koss (born 29 October 1968) is a former speed skater from Norway, considered to be one of the best in history." There's also an oddball fictional character whose name I learned from crosswords: GORT is clued as 8D ["The Day the Earth Stood Still" robot].
Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Getting Extra C-R-E-D-I-T: Let me spell it all out"
Brendan's added a new feature, a difficulty-meter for the puzzle. This one's rated hard, and I'd say it's at least Friday-level but with a theme that might take Saturday effort to glom onto. The theme entries sort of sound like familiar phrases, and HARD ICHOR looked like "hard liquor" without the L. But what's going on here is that each of the six theme entries has a letter added to a phrase, and the spelling's changed to make a real word out of the word that adopts the extra letter. Those extra letters are, in order, C, R, E, D, I, T. Straightforward enough, right? This is an instance of a puzzle where the title really helps pull the theme together and make it more fun for the solver, less mystifying. The theme:
Favorite clue: Maple SYRUP is a [Silver dollar covering] if you're talking about silver dollar pancakes. Mmm, pancakes... Second favorite: [Goes from prenatal to parental, e.g.] clues ANAGRAMS.
That's all the time I have right now, as it's just about time to pick up my kid from school. In Chicago, they get out at 9:30 a.m. on the last day! Will be back later on with the Wall Street Journal puzzle.
Updated again Friday evening:
Wall Street Journal crossword, "Speaker Boxes," by Mike Shenk a.k.a. "Alice Long"
Mike Shenk is known in the puzzle business for being an innovator, for devising cool new types of puzzles. Mike can even bring innovation to the fusty concept of the quote theme: here, the words in the quote are hidden within longer phrases or words, which are clued straightforwardly. So the hideousness of the standard quote theme—the "sure hope you can get the Downs because you're not getting much help with the long Across entries" thing—is eliminated. You're not getting a ton of thematic material, it's true, but you do get a 21x21 with 29 answers of at least 7 letters, and you're getting Shenk-grade fill. The Matthew Prior quote that's spelled out in the circled squares, one word per long answer, is THEY TALK MOST WHO HAVE THE LEAST TO SAY. Hey, that's only 32 letters of quote in a Sunday-sized puzzle. This I find much more palatable than a 50-letter quote in a 15x15 grid.
Highlights in the fill include a COON'S AGE (which is a more familiar phrase than the DOG'S AGE that was in another recent puzzle), LIP BALM, a PANAMA HAT, a comfy OLD SHOE, NO-DOZ, RENT-A-COP, STEPMOM, and some of the entries hiding the quote words—THE YANKEES, MORTAL KOMBAT, FIFTH AVENUE, and crossword-ready ADELE ASTAIRE graduating to full-name status.
June 11, 2009