You can’t download the Washington Post Sunday puzzle from the usual link this weekend. The December 25 and January 1 puzzles will be at Evan’s site.
Kevin Der’s New York Times crossword, “Married Couples”—Amy’s write-up
Unusual theme. Kevin’s assembled a set of six familiar phrases that join two words with an “and” or a prepositional phrase, and interpreted them by sandwiching together two things that can be synonymous with those original two words, with the middle of that sandwich being two letters where synonym 1 and synonym 2 meet up. Is that remotely clear? Not an easy theme concept to explain.
- 22a. [Play by heart?], DRAMATIC PIECENTER, where “dramatic piece” and “center” can mean “play” and “heart,” and “by” suggests that the terms are near each other. This is not about avoiding pie crust.
- 37a. [A plus average?], SYMBOL FOR AMPEREGULAR. Raise your hand if “symbol for ampere” is not among the first ten things you would think of the letter A standing for.
- 60a. [Handle with care?], ALIASSISTANCE.
- 75a. [Calm before the storm?], SERENITYPHOON.
- 96a. [Grab and go?], CLUTCHINESE BOARD GAME.
- 116a. [Stay ahead of the curve?], ABIDECEPTIVE PITCH. Man, that “deceptive pitch” part was not coming to mind for me at all.
I’ve often raved about Kevin’s 21×21 creations, but this theme leaves me cold. There’s no humor, there’s no whimsy, there’s no “whoa, that’s neat how it formed that crazy phrase!” There’s also no “Oh, neat, these familiar phrases include a two-letter overlap between words” angle. I tried anagramming the circled pairs of letters and got a SCRATCHED EYE. Merry Christmas?
There’s some nice fill and some fun clues. In the fill department, I liked CRABBY, ESPN RADIO, TOFUTTI, JUNGLE GYM (we call it the monkey bars in Illinois and Wisconsin), and OFF-COLOR.
Trivia I certainly did not know: 34d. [Swedish lake that’s the largest in the European Union], VANERN. Vänern turns out to be about a tenth the size of Lake Michigan. They sure make ’em small in Europe! It’s also much smaller than Europe’s two biggest lakes, both in Russia (and both smaller than Lake Michigan).
Spot where I had two wrong squares: The intersection of 107a, 89d, and 108d. For 108d. [Onetime alternative to Facebook Messenger], I wanted Apple’s iCHAT (hadn’t realized that Google phased out Gchat in favor of pretending it’s all Hangouts) but figured this “onetime” thing might be some obscure ECHAT since 107a probably didn’t want to end with an I. So for 107a. [Provider of limited coverage?], I entered PHONE. That made 89d. [Setting for some aerial maneuvers] into the mystifying BIG POP. Bygone tradename meets question-marked clue meets a vaguely misleading “some aerial maneuvers” clue? I bet I’m not the only one who didn’t have THONG, GCHAT, and BIG TOP here.
2.75 stars from me. I was hoping for a really fun puzzle for the holiday weekend, but I almost feel like I got coal.
Nora Pearlstone’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Holiday Doings”—Andy’s review
Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas, dear readers!
The Notepad in my Across Lite version of this puzzle says that there are some visual elements available in print and online that didn’t translate to AL; I checked the latimes.com version and it looked exactly the same as this one. Still, I think I pretty much get what’s happening here. (Would love to see what this looked like in print, if any paper solvers want to share their images.)
Mainly, the grid forms a Christmas tree in the middle of this puzzle. I think it’s a very visually pleasing tree, achieved by using left-right symmetry instead of axial symmetry. Instead of busting out bullet points for this puzzle, I’m just going to talk about as many thematic entries as I can find. If I miss any, feel free to put me on blast in the comments.
The Notepad points to 55- and 108-Across, so I’ll start there: there are ORNAMENTS right at the widest part of the tree branches, and MODEL TRAINS running at the base of the tree. Additionally, circles near the top-center of the puzzle form a STAR at the top of the tree (well, more of a diamond, but they say “star”). I also see the symmetrically placed pairs SANTA CLAUS / A CHRISTMAS (CAROL) [24a / 26a & 71a], REINDEER/PRESENTS [85a / 89a], O TANNENBAUM / TRIM THE TREE [3d / 13d], GREETING CARD / CHARLIE BROWN [49d / 53d], and AFAR / WRAP [105a / 112a], all with Christmasy clues. There’s also 22a, LETTERS [Bagfuls for 24-Across (SANTA CLAUS], at the top of the tree. ICE SKATES are in the grid at 11d, but the symmetrical entry, DEMAGOGUE, probably isn’t thematic. You could also argue that the symmetrical pair of ADORNS / SHIP TO [101a / 103a] is thematic, but I think there’s plenty of theme material without shoehorning those in. Did I miss anything?
Overall, a fun (and very easy!) Christmas Sunday puzzle. My only major disappointment was seeing ROW A [Where no one can sit in front of you] in the SE corner. I don’t think that’s a very good entry at all (plus it sort of dupes ONE A directly above it), and there are other ways to fill that tiny corner while still keeping the thematic WRAP. Of course, YMMV.
Oh, and is there some hidden pun/joke in the title that I’m not getting? Explanation much appreciated if you’ve got it!
Enjoy the holidays! Until next year!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Gift Boxes” – Jenni’s writeup
Good morning! If you are celebrating, I hope it’s what you wish it to be. Evan has some presents for us to unwrap in today’s puzzle.
There are six rebus squares:
- 28a [Classic tune from “Song of the South”] = Z(IPAD)EEDOODAH crossing HEL(IPAD).
- 61a [Regimen of cyclical weight gain and loss] = (YOYO)DIET crossing (YOYO)MA.
- 74a [“___ of the North” (1922 documentary of Inuit life)] = NA(NOOK) OF THE NORTH crossing S(NOOK)ERS, which is clued [67d. Cheats … like a pool player might?].
- 68a [Currency unit] = (DOLL)AR crossing RAG(DOLL)S (as in the kind of cat).
- 78a [Blouse holder] = WARD(ROBE) crossing AE(ROBE).
- 111a [One committing only a little bit of capital] = SMALL IN(VEST)OR, crossing DI(VEST)ED.
So our gift boxes contain an IPAD, a YOYO, a NOOK, a DOLL, a ROBE, and a VEST. The vest better not be for me.
That’s not the whole theme, though. We also have three entries clued as [Gift variety for two boxes in this puzzle]:
- 37a is ARTICLE OF CLOTHING (the robe and the vest).
- 71a is TOY (the doll and the yoyo).
- 98a is TOUCH SCREEN DEVICE (the iPad and the Nook).
We also have a two-part answer that ties into the theme: 14d [With 88 Down, holiday gifts you may not expect to appear in a box] gives us STOCKING STUFFERS.
And one more bonus down in the SE! 131a [Firewalking pit object] is HOT and 108d [Certain artistic medium] is CHAR, which means the cheater square that sits at the end of both answers is a lump of COAL.
Our Christmas/Chanukah puzzle is stuffed full of goodies. It left me smiling, as any pile of presents should.
A few other things:
- 9d [Seven-time MLB all-star Robinson] CANO is named after that other MLB all-star and icon, Jackie.
- Another holiday heard from at 63a with [Fourth of July purchases] for SPARKLERS. My poor kid with a doc for a mom is not allowed to have sparklers. Also on the banned list: a backyard trampoline. She’s so deprived.
- 62d [Lab coat?] was a gimme. We’ve had labs in our house. The last one died two years ago. We still find DOG HAIR.
- 121a [Notable New York giant] had me thinking it was a rebus for Eli Manning, since I had the E. Then I realized the “g” was lower-case. We’re looking for Patrick EWING, a very tall man who played for the Knicks.
- Does the dupe rule forbid two Apple titles in the same puzzle? I don’t think so. The iPad is joined by iChat at 107d for [Bygone Apple program replaced by Messages].
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there are cats called RAGDOLLS because they have a tendency to go limp when picked up.
Whatever you are or are not celebrating, I wish you peace.
Brad Wilber’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Holidays to you all! Regardless of what you do/don’t celebrate, I hope you’re all doing very well, that your family members are as safe and sound as can be, and that you enjoy your puzzle solving on this relaxing holiday. (Well, I hope it’s relaxing for you.)
In my stocking today was this fun Sunday Challenge puzzle from Mr. Brad Wilber. Probably the highlight of doing the grid was seeing clues involving a couple of my strong suits, television production and sports, bailing me out with getting TIMPANI in the Southwest part of the grid to pretty much put a wrap and complete the puzzle (35D: [They represent the hunters in “Peter and the Wolf”]). I saw that clue and knew it was going to be a musical instrument, but after nailing TABLE READ (35A: [Cast members initial run-through, often]) and (former New York Jets quarterback Joe) NAMATH pretty quickly after seeing its clues, then that section became secure (57A: [Fawcett costar in an old Noxzema ad]). Speaking of old ads, loved seeing BUBBLE YUM as fill in the grid (33A: [“Soft ‘n Juicy” candy aisle debut of 1975]). I guess if you’re not in the mood for Bubble Yum, then ALTOIDS might be down your alley (41D: [“Curiously strong” mints]). For those who are getting ready to have some good food on this Christmas Day, seeing HAM HOCKS (1A: [Soul food meat]) and VACHERIN might whet your appetite right now (16A: [Dessert layering fruit and cream between crunchy meringue rings]). I had totally forgotten about MCCALL’S demise until seeing the clue and remembering how that was briefly talked about in a journalism class when I was in college, and how Rosie O’Donnell was trying to save it by becoming an owner (3D: [First of the “Seven Sisters” magazines to fold]). There’s so much more strong fill in the grid, but I might leave here if I continue to talk about that and not get on with my day! Hope you enjoyed the grid as much as I did.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: COSELL (44A: [“Down goes Frazier!” sportscaster]) – That famous call (which was said three times in succession) from longtime ABC Sports broadcaster Howard COSELL occurred during the first round of the 1973 heavyweight title fight in Kingston, Jamaica between Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Frazier, who had unified the heavyweight championship in 1970 and also had a successful defense of his title in a defeat of Muhammad Ali in the first of their three legendary fights, came into the 1973 match against Foreman at 29-0. However, Smokin’ Joe was overpowered by the heavy hands of Foreman, who won the fight by TKO in the second round. Foreman actually knocked down Frazier a total of six times in the fight – the fight only lasted a total of four minutes and 35 seconds – and the first of those knockdowns was accompanied by one of the most famous calls in the sport’s history.
Happy Holidays!! Have a great rest of your Sunday!
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “At the Anagram Store” — pannonica’s write-up
Paired anagrams involving long words, one part of which could conceivably—or should that be arguably?—be found in a retail establishment.
- 23a. [Outerwear at the Anagram Store] CROATIAN RAINCOAT.
- 37a. [Jeweler’s loops from the Anagram Store] STERLING RINGLETS.
- 54a. [Restraint to try at the Anagram Store] TESTABLE SEATBELT.
- 73a. [Top bedroom choice at the Anagram Store] SMARTEST MATTRESS.
- 90a. [Book-box deals at the Anagram Store] SLIPCASE SPECIALS.
- 109a. [Who runs the Anagram Store] NAMELESS SALESMEN.
Nice bunch of anagrams; most were new to me. Quick, pleasant solve and a nice morning diversion.
Other longish entries: 36d [1983 David Bowie hit] LET’S DANCE, 51d [Comedy partner of Mike Nichols] ELAINE MAY, 15d [7/4 item] SPARKLER, 79d [Preps for publication] TYPESETS.
- 14d [Get laced together] ENTWINE, 112a [Puzzle to unravel] KNOT, 86d [Even the score again] RETIE.
- 5a [Grate stuff] ASHES, 38d Barbecue leftover?] EMBER.
- 34d [Red deer] HART. Really? I believe we need a gender qualifier here.
- 3d [Nail site] FOOT, 63d [3 Down, to a kid] TOOTSY. Where do children (still) say this?
- 30d [Opposite of nonchalance] ANGST, 47d [Down] GLUM, 67d [Pretty grim] DIRE.
I guess that’s a good a place as any to end things today.