Paula Gamache’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up
Hope you didn’t meet any DEAD ENDs in today’s puzzle! That’s our revealer, front and center: [Cul-de-sac … or what either part of the answer to each starred clue is?]. So what are the starred clues?
- 17a. [*Colorful North American waterfowl] WOOD DUCK
- 21a. [*Fleet operator] AIRLINE
- 22a. [*Class determinant in boxing] BODY WEIGHT
- 48a. [*Top on official stationery] LETTERHEAD
- 50a. [*Observe closely] EYEBALL
- 54a. [*Swimmer with a prehensile tail] SEAHORSE
Both parts of each theme entry can follow “DEAD” to form a common word or phrase: DEADWOOD, DEAD DUCK, DEAD AIR, DEADLINE, etc. This is a pretty common theme concept so the novelty factor is low, but for Paula’s 100th NYT puzzle (congrats!), she found six entries that produce solid, common results when combined with “dead.”
I have to admit that I didn’t know what a WOOD DUCK was, and BODY WEIGHT seemed a little contrived to me at first as opposed to just saying “weight,” but it grew on me. Also, look at that wood duck. It’s gorgeous. The brilliant color combination, and the crest, and that red eye demanding that you acknowledge it? Beautiful.
As for the fill, I loved seeing EARTHA Kitt, and enjoyed learning that there are more than two universities bearing the name LOYOLA (I knew of Chicago and Baltimore). For some reason ON THE MAKE was a new phrase to me. Other things that were new to me and tripped me up were SAUTERNES (and sweet white wine is the only kind I drink), DO YA by ELO (I don’t recall seeing this in a crossword before, and this is only its second appearance in the NYT) and the LOEB Boathouse. I wasn’t a fan of FFF for “fortississimo” or LIENOR (for which a Google search brought up “lienorenal ligament” before “lienor.” Finally, GOOD FAT and CABIT were nice new entries.
Overall, a somewhat tired theme concept, but executed well. 3.25 stars. Time to get back to cleaning for my parents’ arrival from Florida on Thursday. Let’s end with some Eartha Kitt — I’m already Christmas song-ed out, so here’s her version of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in that amazing voice of hers.
John Lampkin’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Mind the Gap” — Jim’s review
Today’s puzzle comes from John Lampkin. The title had me thinking London Underground, but ’twasn’t to be. We are given the revealer at 58A [Hardly in agreement, or a feature of 17-, 24-, 35-, and 49-Across]. That is, MILES APART. The theme answers have the word MILES split APART from beginning to end.
- 17A [Garden heaps] MULCH PILES. M___ILES. This one made me grumble. It’s kind of “green painty”. Sure, a MULCH PILE is a thing that exists, but the phrase is not a common one. The rest are accepted phrases or names, this one’s just a PILE of something. I can have a LEGO PILE, but does that make it valid crossword fill? In quotation marks, it earned 41.7k hits on Google. Compare it to “wood pile” (445k) and “rock pile” (395k). “Lego pile” gets 7k, so MULCH PILE is much closer to Lego pile than rock pile.
- 24A [They’re rarely billed] MINOR ROLES. MI___LES. “Billed” as in listed in the credits.
- 35A [Dairy devices] MILKING MACHINES. MIL___ES. Yet another plural.
- 49A [“Wrecking Ball” singer] MILEY CYRUS. MILE___S. Best theme entry of the lot. No plurals involved here.
Aside from the iffiness of MULCH PILES and the prevalence of plurals in the theme answers, they do have a certain elegance. The “gap” between the two groups of letters shifts sequentially as the themers are revealed. That is, the gap moves from between the M and I in the first themer to the E and S in the last one. That is a very nice touch. To make this happen and to have them all be symmetric cancels out any of the negativity I raised above.
I really like the non-theme long Downs today despite being only 8 letters each. 38D NOAH’S ARK is great, but 3D COLOSSAL made me think of the old text-adventure game “COLOSSAL Cave“, the very first interactive fiction game from way back in the 70s. I spent many hours playing that one as a kid. (Oooh, there’s an iPad version!) Rounding out the long Downs are GRISHAM, FRIDAYS, SPIRIT, and LUDENS. Good stuff.
The NE and SW corners are segmented off, but mostly really nice, especially the NE. Up there, we get RIBALD, CRATER, and HERESY going Down with only a T-BAR as a price to pay. Lovely. The SW pays a higher price (ILE and ERTES) in order to get IMPALA, LIE LOW, and ELAINE to work.
You can also add OH SURE and LESS FAT to the “PLUS” column. Some things in the “minus” column are ERDE, NTHS, AME, A DARE, IS A, and RAHS. Maybe that’s more than usual, but it didn’t feel too bad while solving.
- 10A [Roguish] for ARCH. As seen in this quote from Jonathan Swift “She…was ARCH enough to inform the queen whenever I committed any folly that she thought would be diverting to her majesty.”
- 32A [Allegheny’s name after 1979] for US AIR. I’m sorry, but US AIR is a stupid name for a river. (Please forward all complaints about bad jokes to Amy Reynaldo.)
- 7D [“Magic in the Moonlight” director] for ALLEN. Didn’t know this movie title. Sounds roughly like a title in the Magic Treehouse series of books which my daughter enjoys.
Another finely-constructed WSJ puzzle. One theme answer is a bit iffy, but on the whole, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Not my cup of tea, but I must go where the puzzle leads.
Here’s MILEY CYRUS: Edit: Scratch that. Just watched a portion of the “Wrecking Ball” video and it’s truly horrendous. We’ll go without a closing video today.
Kameron Austin Collins’s AVCX crossword, “AV Themeless #4” — Ben’s Review
It’s another themeless this week on the AV Club, this time from Kameron Austin Collins. I tend to not be a huge fan of themeless crosswords, since I’m at a place in solving where I still like some hook for fill I don’t know, but I ended up really liking some of what popped up in this week’s puzzle:
- 17A: Response to a killer wave — GNARLY DUDE
- 26A: Harlem Renaissance writer Nella — LARSEN (Thanks, re-reading “Passing” in the last year!)
- 32A: Streamed illegally — TPED
- 51A: Flock recitation — LITANY
- 1D: [******SPOILER ALERT FOR KIDS] Like the myth of Santa Claus — PAGAN
- 5D: B or C of pop music — MEL
- 28D: “Serial” genre — TRUE CRIME
- 56D: Hookup letters — DSL
This was definitely the full 4.5/5 in difficulty promised, but little by little I kept filling in parts of the grid until everything was correct. With a themeless puzzle, it’s all about the fill, so it was nice to see common stuff like ENO getting what felt like a relatively fresh clue to me with a shoutout to his work on the Windows 95 music.
The construction here is impeccable. 4.5/5 stars.
Craig Stowe’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
We have a clever, yet simple theme today. Four answers begin with PIANOPIECES, or more precisely, PIANOPARTS. These parts are multiple, but occur singly at the starts of four phrases: HAMMERTHROW, KEYDECISIONS, PEDALTOTHEMETAL, STRINGTHEORY. Simple enough.
The grid is designed conservatively so as to mitigate the effects of 61 theme squares, with a central 15 facilitating things somewhat (13’s, 11’s and 9’s place more constraints on design).
Despite the sizable theme, the fill is mostly smooth, if not particularly full of “Wow” moments. There is an ADIT and a UTA and a few others scattered throughout the grid, but the only things that rankled were ERN and ESO. Why? Because those areas have tens to hundreds of possible fills and both answers are far from necessary glue.
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Let’s Call It a Day”—Ade’s write-up
Hello there, everyone! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Alan Arbesfeld, has four 15-letter multiple-word terms in which the second word is also the name of an actual holiday on the calendar here in the United States. I live in New York, so Election Day is indeed a (civic) holiday.
- SPECIAL ELECTION (17A: [It may be used to fill an unexpected vacancy])
- ORGANIZED LABOR (26A: [Voting bloc traditionally aligned with the Democratic party])
- MERRY CHRISTMAS (45A: [Seasonal greeting]) – Is Christmas coming soon? Can’t tell with all the warm weather lately.
- VIETNAM VETERANS (58A: [Ones honored by a DC memorial])
Of all of the non Sunday Challenges I’ve done, this may have had the toughest 1-Across of all, with GASPÉ (1A: [Quebec peninsula]). With the crossings, it’s not difficult, but if you’re not a Quebecer or are on the ball with your Canadian geography, that’s near impossible to get without a little assistance. After the first couple of times seeing it, I never got too comfortable seeing the fill of ERIE PA in a grid (5D: [Home of Gannon Univ.]). It’s an abbreviation…but it’s not. But would I say the same if, down the road, there’s a clue that refers to the location of RPI and the answer – and the accompanying fill – happens to be presented as “TROYNY?” I don’t know. Of all the words I remember seeing on flash cards when studying for the SAT eons ago, ANOMIE was one of the words that always stood out (54A: [Breakdown of social norms]). Other thing that I noticed was the Greek intersection of ADONIS (18D: [Male dreamboat]) and APOLO (22A: [Olympic speed skater Ohno]). OK, you have to imagine that second L in Apolo is in there, but you get what I mean.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: RONS (13D: [Former Mets Darling and Swoboda]) – Two RONS. Two World Series heroes. In the 1969 World Series, Ron Swoboda made one of the great diving catches in Series history on a liner off the bat of future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson to prevent the Orioles from possibly taking the lead in the top of the ninth inning of Game 4. (The Mets eventually won the game in 10 innings.) Ron Darling was the best starting pitcher for the Mets during the 1986 World Series, allowing only 13 hits in 17.2 innings pitched in three starts, including winning Game 4. Yes, BoSox fans, I do remember Darling allowing those home runs to Dewey Evans and Rich German in Game 7 in the second inning, but this is my blog! Take up your grievances with someone else!! HA!
See you all tomorrow!
Matt Gaffney’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Famous People Are Animals”
Shoot! I forgot to paste this into Erin’s main post on Wednesday morning. Sorry, Matt and readers!
The puzzle’s title is explaining the theme rather than critiquing celebrities. Four famous people whose surnames are “animal name + E” get swapped into familiar phrases that include the animal name:
- 16a. [Actor Russell’s quickest route from Sydney to L.A.?], AS THE CROWE FLIES.
- 21a/49a. [With 49-Across, farm equipment company founder John blinded by your car’s high beams?], DEERE IN THE / HEADLIGHTS.
- 37a. [Author Tom demanding entry to your home?], A WOLFE AT THE DOOR.
- 59a. [See only the movies actor Ethan sees?], WATCH LIKE A HAWKE. Anyone else thinking of Shia LaBeouf here? Last month, he livestreamed himself watching all of his movies in a row.
I’m not wild about 21a/49a not having an A before DEERE. The other phrases all include a definite or indefinite article. I dunno—maybe “like a deer in the headlights” and “deer in the headlights” are equally in-the-language?
Fairly dense theme—three 15s and a pair of 10s is 65 theme squares. Matt always likes it when I chastise a puzzle with a lot of theme and lousy fill for not having “room for the fill to breathe.” Let’s see how Matt does: Plural EYRES and WISHER are awkward, –ESE is blah … but overall, the fill is solid. Gaffney knows how to wrangle grids.
Five more things:
- 26d. [“Donald Trump Stares Forlornly At Tiny, Aged Penis In Mirror Before Putting On Clothes, Beginning Day” newspaper, with “The”], ONION. The clue is ridiculously long but it amused me.
- 9d. [Soccer superstar Thomas with five goals in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups], MULLER. Technically, he’s Müller, which could be presented as Mueller without the umlaut. And Matt knows German. Odd. MULLER/MARA could have replaced the M with a D to avoid that issue, and the two-names crossing.
- 57a. [Drinks a craft beer, if you’re doing it right. Am I doing it right?], SIPS. Um, is sipping de rigueur? I don’t know.
- 10d. [Boxer Muhammad or son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad], ALI. Not sure I’ve seen an ALI clue (or half a clue) leaning on early Islam. Certainly it’s not super common in crosswords.
- 12d. [Analingus site], ASS. First, gross. Second, that word is spelled incorrectly. Believe it or not, it’s anilingus, modeled after cunnilingus. Spelling counts!
3.9 stars from me.