Psst: Did you know Matt Gaffney is blogging the NYT puzzle all week over at the Rex Parker site? Don’t miss it.
Jeff Stillman’s New York Times crossword
Theme adds a -BO and tweaks the spelling as needed:
- 20a. [Celebration dance after a goal?], SOCCER MAMBO. Soccer mom.
- 57a. [Punched out a Disney elephant?], STRUCK DUMBO. Struck dumb.
- 11d. [Aerobics done to Chubby Checker music?], TWIST TAE BO. Twist tie.
- 29d. [Give a hobbit a ring?], PHONE BILBO. Phone bill.
That’s solid and not stale. Not in the puzzle: TREE LIMBO, BUBBLE GUMBO.
Whoa, unfamiliar word: 27a. [Combat engineer], SAPPER. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word anywhere, least of all in an early-week crossword, but the crossings were all unambiguous.
65a. [It may be checked, in more ways than one], COAT. Um, what? Stow your coat at the coat check or … check the pockets of your coat? A coat with a checkered pattern? Not sure what the “more ways” are supposed to be.
HART is clued as 68a. [Politico Gary]. Uh, he left politics 26 years ago. Surely by now comedian/actor Kevin Hart is more famous? His current movie, Ride Along, has won the box office race two weekends running, and K.H. will star in the About Last Night remake (based on a Mamet play) that opens in a couple weeks. And he’s on TV, he does stand-up, he’s hosted the VMAs…
Favorite clue: 41d. [One known for talking back?], PARAKEET.
Could do without fill like OBI, AEON, ULNA, and URGER. (Have you ever used URGER?) But mostly the fill is solid, with 6- to 8-letter answers that are crisp (MADCAP Groucho Vs. the GAUCHO).
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ themeless crossword, “Large and in Charge”
It’s time for another freestyle Jonesin’, which reminds me that Matt’s No Holds Barred collection of barred freestyle puzzles is coming out in February for Kickstarter backers (don’t know if non-backers will be able to buy the puzzle packet later).
This puzzle has yet another one of those oddball Jones themeless grids, a 66-worder. The 3×3 and 3×4 sections feel out of place, but take a gander at those other two wide-open corners and the insane midsection. Nine 7- to 9-letter Acrosses piled on top of each other, crossing a bunch of 7- to 12-letter fill? That is just nuts. In a good way.
Grid highlights: BIG BERTHA, SQUID INK, THE ALAMO, PRIME FACTOR, SAFE RETURN, HOME-SCHOOLER, Erich Maria REMARQUE, BARBITURATE, and BOUTIQUE.
Grid lowlights: 8a. [Old French Communist Party of Canada inits. (hidden in EPCOT)], PCO; semi-contrived HERE FOREVER and DRIVEN TO FEAR and IN LIFE; maybe not so famous [NASA astronaut Leroy ___] CHIAO; arbitrary (?) tarot card the TEN OF CUPS; 6d. [Canadian singer/songwriter ___ Naked], BIF.
3.9 stars from me.
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “See Here!” – Dave Sullivan’s review
Four phrases which begin with a synonym of SEE are clued as imperatives:
- [See some barware?] was EYE GLASSES – to “eye” something is to look at it.
- [See some payday handouts?] was SPOT CHECKS to “spot” something is also to catch a glimpse of it.
- [See some lighthouses?] clued WATCH TOWERS. I believe this is also the name of the magazine handed out by Seventh Day Adventists; has anyone read what it has to say?
- [See some gifted artists?] was VIEW MASTERS– are these those old devices that you put a disk in to see a photo with sort of a “stereoscopic” effect? “Masters” reminds me of the game Masterpiece where random values are assigned to pictures of great paintings.
Clever theme and very consistent. Having the theme entries in the “pinwheel” configuration also allowed some interesting fill; namely the Q shared between QURAN (I tried KORAN at first, is one more common than the other?) and QUESTION, the Z of MERTZ and ZODIAC and the K of PEKES and KAYO (which I think of as an old-timey drink prior to its variant spelling of K-O or a boxing knockout). I do take issue though with the clue [Often-misused pronoun] for WHOM, since whom does the constructor thinks misuses it?
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “Cheeseheads!”—Janie’s review
Let’s get this straight from the start: today’s title “cheeseheads” are not citizens of the great state of Wisconsin (who turned that one-time epithet into a source of pride). Instead, you’ll find the name of a kind of cheese at the head of phrase that has nothing whatever to do with dairy-food. Making this puzzle something that can be enjoyed safely even by the lactose-intolerant! We get five themers today (three 15s and two 12s for a hefty total of 69 theme squares) and I’m happy to say that as a group of phrases they are far zestier than the kinda mild cheese spread we’re served. See if you don’t agree.
- 17A. “FARMER IN THE DELL” [Kindergarten tune, with “The”]. Well, “heigh-ho the derry-o,” we’re off an runnin’. Hmm. And just checked—it is “derry-o” and not “dairy-o.” See for yourself. Darn… Farmer cheese? Actually you can liven it up quite a bit (or even use it as a “healthy” substitute for cream cheese), but as “pressed cottage cheese [more on that later],” it’s not the most exciting dairy product out there. (Small wonder “the cheese stands alone”…)
23A. STRING BIKINI [Two piece suit that won’t keep you warm]. Especially in the kind of weather a lot of the country has been having of late! Love this combo—the understatement of the clue, the utter freshness of the fill. And string cheese? Depending on how it’s made, it can be pretty salty. Especially love it when there’s some caraway thrown in!
- 16A. SWISS ARMY KNIVES [Compact tools that open bottles of wine and cans of beans]. M-m-m. Now there’s a savory combo! (Not all that far-fetched though, now that I think about it. A nice red wine with one’s cassoulet? Mais oui!). The multitasking Swiss Army knives really are amazing. The most complex ones can accommodate close to 90 tools. There’s probably something in there that can even gouge out holes in Swiss cheese!
46A. COTTAGE FRIES [Potato side dish on a brunch menu]. Now I’m someone who’s eaten more than her share of cottage cheese—but probably because I’ve also enjoyed more than my share of cottage fries. And all in all, I think a serving of crisp-on-the-outside cottage fries are more likely to SATE [Please a foodie] than cottage cheese. Unless we’re talkin’ a diet-conscious health-foodie. Like its farmer relative above, cottage cheese fares somewhat better (by this palate anyway…), when doctored with fresh fruit, or maybe some cinnamon. Somethin‘ to give it a flavor boost! (These oven-baked cottage “fries” sound an awful lot like roasted potatoes to me. Nuthin’ wrong with that!)
57A. AMERICAN ACCENTS [Across-the-pond speech patterns studied by British actors]. Like Benedict Cumberbatch in August: Osage County. Or Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man. Emma Watson in The Bling Ring. Or Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis. Wonder how they feel about American cheese. I associate it so strongly with childhood and think of more in terms of texture than actual flavor. As for those orange-y cheeses in general, make mine a sharp cheddar or tangy Cheshire, please!
As I mentioned at the top, there is a lot of lengthy theme fill in today’s puzzle. Which means that where this puzzle is concerned, there’s little else by way of longer fill. Eight sixes, and everything else in the three, four and five range. But when those sixes include the scrabbly music duo of SEDAKA and DVORAK, and CRESTS clued as [Family emblems], I’m all right. That last one reminds me of the laugh my own family got when we received a solicitation to get information about the “Smulyan Family Coat of Arms.” Sure. What Jewish family in TSARist Russia didn’t have one of those? (Maybe you can find your family’s here.)
And though it’s clued colloquially, [“No problems here”] for “I’M EASY,“ this phrase brought back fond memories of seeing (Robert Altman’s) Nashville, and being seduced by Keith Carradine’s rendition of his Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning song of the same title (which he wrote as well as performed).
My fave of the sixes, though, would have to be SALAMI. With all that cheese in the grid—well, a spicy salami makes for a great go-with. But what adds to its strength as an entry is its vertical (“hanging”) placement in the grid combined with its clue, [It hangs around a deli counter]. And it crosses three of the themers to boot!
Not wild for the MNOP action in the SE corner and think the SW corner might be improved by changing the “S” that joins NOS to STARES to a “D,” for NOD and STARED—thereby eliminating an abbreviation. Still—small potatoes by any measure!
David Poole’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The theme is a movie doubling feature:
- 20a. [2002 Sandra Bullock film], TWO WEEKS’ NOTICE.
- 24a. [1981 Alan Alda film, with “The”], FOUR SEASONS. There are some other movies that begin with FOUR and could sidestep the [… with “The”] crutch, but they’re not necessarily any more famous than this 1981 movie … which is not all that big itself. Four Weddings and a Funeral was big, but the title’s too long.
- 45a. [1988 John Cusack film], EIGHT MEN OUT.
- 54a. [1984 Molly Ringwald film], SIXTEEN CANDLES.
I suspect a number of solvers struggled to get through this puzzle owing to the relatively large number of proper nouns in the grid. MCRAE, TRIS, MACAU, GLESS, LAHTI, SAHL, UTE, ERIK—those are the ones that are less household-namey than the others 10 or so names in this puzzle.
Four more things:
- 17a. [Resembling an equine], HORSELIKE. The word is best applied to ponies, zebras, and certain large-faced football players.
- 43a. [Peter and Paul, but not Mary], APOSTLES. More often this clue leads to SAINTS. And speaking of folk music allusions, we at Crossword Fiend were saddened to hear of the passing of the legendary Pete Seeger. He was a good guy and a beloved part of my childhood.
- 4d. [“Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses” painter Georgia], O’KEEFFE. This painting lives in the Art Institute of Chicago.
- 34d. [Trig finals, e.g.], MATH EXAMS. Slightly arbitrary entry? I think so. It sort of looks like it’s tied to the theme, but the symmetry partner is CROISSANT. But wait! Laminating dough involves many steps of incorporating butter and folding the dough over to double the layers. A hint of thematicness. Mmm, croissants…
3.25 stars. A few too many names and entries like EES, SOU, and ESTER for me to grade it higher.