Head to Pete Muller’s site on Tuesday for the newest installment of the Muller Monthly Music Meta. That’s right! It’s a whole new year of MMMM puzzles, starting tomorrow. This year, Pete’s offering bonus points to anyone who guesses the year-end mega-meta before they’ve seen all of the monthly puzzles. If you’re good at teasing out metas, knock yourself out! (I can pretty much guarantee you I won’t figure out the mega-meta early since there’s a good chance I won’t even solve all of the monthly metas.)
Robert A. Doll’s New York Times crossword
This constructor’s byline always reminds me of the story of my aunt Roberta’s high school graduation. The person reading the graduates’ names called her as “Robert A. Lastname” rather than than “Roberta Lastname.”
Today’s theme adds an -LY to the end of a word to change the meaning of a phrase:
- 16a. [Hefty honcho?], PORTLY AUTHORITY. This person is big in New York/New Jersey.
- 37a. [Add just a dash of pepper?], GINGERLY SPICE. I know pepper is a spice rather than an herb, but I think of adding pepper as “seasoning” rather than “spicing.” Nutmeg, cinnamon—those are straight-up spices used to spice. With the Spice Girls’ Ginger Spice used as a base phrase, one wonders if this puzzle has been pending publication since the Spice Girls were big, or if seeing the Spice Girls’ reunion in the London Olympics was inspirational to Mr. Doll.
- 57a. Successful dieter’s award?], THE NO-BELLY PRIZE. Nobel + LY splits into two words, unlike the other theme answers.
Top fill: DISNEYLAND ([Home of the California Screamin’ roller coaster]) and BROOM-HILDA ([Russell Myers comic strip]). I’m a little surprised that BROOMHILDA isn’t clued as Kerry Washington’s character in Django Unchained, which is up for a number of Oscars.
Did not know: 41a. [1964 #1 Four Seasons hit], RAG DOLL.
Tons of capitalized answers here aside from those lovely 10s. In the unexciting category, we have ASTA, SIAM, plural EMMAS, TSO, HELGA, MAHRE, LYDIA, DANA, BELLOC ([“Cautionary tales for Children” writer]), ULAN, ALTA, RAE, and EDSELS. Combine those with RES, ERAT, EOE, BBB, and –IER, and you get something a tad less than fun.
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “N Conclusion”- Sam Donaldson’s review
Today’s theme is a tree with two distinct branches. Two of the four theme entries employ the simple “add-an-N-at-the-end” gimmick. But the other two theme entries re-purpose a silent E into a vocal N. What both branches have in common (i.e., the tree) is the N-sound at the end. (“The N-sound” is not to be confused with “the N-word,” m’kay?)
This raises an interesting question about the “tightness” of a crossword theme. Another blog recently delved into the same subject, so maybe it’s worth an extended paragraph to explore it here (and perhaps in the comments). Using today’s puzzle as an example, is it sufficient that all of the theme entries are common terms with an N-sound appended to the end, even though sometimes that’s achieved through an added letter and sometimes through a changed letter? Or would the puzzle be better if all of the theme entries came from the same branch (that is, either they all simply added an N at the end or changed a silent E into a vocal N)? If you said yes to that last question, it’s probably fair to say you value tightness in your crossword themes, and maybe the tighter the better. If you’re fine with N-sound alone, though, I’m not saying you hate tightness or that you’re fast and loose. Shirley (hah!) we all agree that the added sound at the end needs to be consistent, unless the various added ending sounds form some meta-puzzle (did that give anyone any ideas?). So for some, perhaps there is a distinction between consistency and tightness, and while the latter’s great, the former is all we really need. Fair summary? Is there more to it? Have at it in the comments.
For those less intrigued by crossword theory, let’s recap the theme entries and get to the highlights:
- 17-Across: One [Yelling at one’s ears?] may well be ROTTEN TO THE CORN, the result of adding the N-sound to the end of “rotten to the core.” I loved the playful clue for this one, though I didn’t make the connection until I had the CORN in the grid.
- 31-Across: A TOPLESS BARN is [Where spinning toys are forbidden on the farm?]. The clue for that one could have gone in many twisted directions; I like the one Patrick chose.
- 41-Across: The [Story about a chess-playing primate] is The MONKEY’S PAWN. Spoiler alert: it’s the first piece to go.
- 56-Across: The [Documentary about the making of an adult movie musical?] is ROAD TO SING-A-PORN. Say what you want about tightness–entertainment trumps all. And this one’s a winner.
My solving time was slower than normal here. Among many things, I blame 22-Across, clued as [What Christmas present peekers do]. At various points, I had RATTLE, RE-TAPE, and RESEAL as answers. Alas, it was RE-WRAP. At the crossing 4-Down, I wanted LET’S RIDE for [“Into the vehicle, everyone”] instead of LET’S ROLL. The latter makes me think of Todd Beamer, which I don’t readily associate with cars. My other sticking point was not knowing HAYDEN as the [CIA director between Goss and Panetta]. I don’t know many CIA directors, and I think that’s the idea.
Favorite entry = LOOK AT THAT, clued as [“Check it out!”]. Favorite clue = [This, to Shakira] for ESTA, though for a half-second I wanted the answer to be HIPS. No lie.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Follow My Lead”
That’s “Follow My Lead” as in the metal pronounced like “led,” not the word that rhymes with “bleed.” Lead’s chemical symbol is Pb, and a PB has been added to the front of various phrases:
- 17a. [Mail-order publications for those who make kids’ sandwiches?], PBJ CREW CATALOGS.
- 32a. [“I Spent My Summer Vacation Rolling a 300” and such?], PBA PAPERS. PBA is the Professional Bowlers Association. “A papers” are, I presume, academic papers for which a grade of A is given.
- 43a. [About 2 stars for canned hipster beer?], PBR RATING. PBR is Pabst Blue Ribbon in hipster abbreviation.
- 60a. [Reason to watch “Sesame Street” and “Nova” on mute?], PBS S IS FOR SILENCE. “S” Is for Silence is a Sue Grafton mystery.
Cute title as rationale for the theme.
- 15a. [“Let me handle the situation”], I’M ON IT.
- 30a. [“Consarn it, ye varmint!”], DADGUM. We would also have accepted GOLDURNIT and DADBURNIT, despite the repetition of the clue’s “it.” (Cute that DADGUM crosses DRAT.)
- 70a. [The Ravens got four in Super Bowl XLVII: abbr.], TDS. Hey! Look how fresh this clue is.
- 50d. [When someone will be back, often], IN A FEW. Colloquialism.
- 3d. [San Diego neighbor], TIJUANA. We don’t see this vowel-rich city in many crosswords, probably because it’s 7 letters long and has a J.
Did not know: 66a. [Kind of off-road motorcycle racing], ENDURO.
Four stars. Lots of 3s, yes (28 of them? yow), but also lots of solid 6s and 7s in the grid.
C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The theme answers end with words that can follow wonder:
- 17a. [Dine], BREAK BREAD. Wonder Bread is currently defunct in the U.S. but the brand may soon return with its new owner.
- 24a. [Commonly controlled substance], ILLEGAL DRUG.
- 35a. [Roy Orbison classic], “OH PRETTY WOMAN.” This is a terrific crossword entry in its own right, and getting a thematic Wonder Woman out of it is the icing on the cake.
- 48a. [1967 Human Be-In attendee], FLOWER CHILD. I love this entry, but “wonder child” strikes me as not remotely in the language. Wunderkind is a great loanword from German, but I don’t think we generally translate it. Plain old lowercase wunderkind is an English word now.
- 58a. [Awe-inspiring place where you might find the ends of 17-, 24-, 35- and 48-Across?], WONDERLAND.
Bright spots in the fill include many of the longer Downs, particularly BABBLE, OFFBEAT, and SENORITA. On the other hand, there are also a lot of uninspiring shorter answers—SSRS, ESDEL, OTT, ITE, GTOS, ON AN, NAE, STEN, AS YE, EPEE, ILER, BIL.
I like the theme (except for the “wonder child” part)—it’s always cool when a theme keeps me guessing until the end, and this one did. 35a and 48a are delightful entries unto themselves. 3.5 stars.