Sam Trabucco’s New York Times crossword, “First Ladies”—Amy’s write-up
We dedicate this post to the brilliant women whose story is told in Hidden Figures, and to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman to win the presidential popular vote (with a total of over 65 million votes). The theme is BREAK THE GLASS CEILING, which is a 20-letter phrase and the reason the grid is 20×21. The circled squares spell out six Across answers (each of which is completed by the word GLASS, making each a “glass ceiling”), jumping over one uncircled square. Those six uncircled letters begin the Down answers that are the surnames of noted women who were the first to achieve their particular position. Each of those names breaks a “glass ceiling” answer. Cool visualization and concept!
- 2d. [*One who 64-Acrossed for Supreme Court justices …], Sandra Day O’CONNOR. She didn’t clerk for justices, she broke the glass ceiling. Paved the way for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.
- 8d. [*… for astronauts], Sally RIDE. Not the first globally (that was Valentina Tereshkova), but the Soviets went with cosmonaut rather than astronaut, and the clue doesn’t say “first to go into space.” Broke the ceiling for Mae Jemison and dozens of other women. Did you know that HRC wanted to be an astronaut when she was a kid, but she was told you had to be a dude?
- 15d. [*… for British prime ministers], Margaret THATCHER. Since followed by Theresa May.
- 77d. [*… for secretaries of state], Madeleine ALBRIGHT. Condoleezza Rice and HRC followed in her footsteps.
- 88d. [*… for Best Directors], Kathryn BIGELOW. First and only, so far, as this particular glass ceiling took 82 years to crack. #OscarsSoMale I predict Ava DuVernay will be the next woman to win Best Director—be sure to watch her documentary, 13th, on Netflix if you haven’t already seen it. Here’s the trailer.
- 98d. [*… for Nobel laureates], Marie Skłowodowska CURIE. She was also the first person of any gender to win two Nobels, and she remains the only person to have won Nobels in two different sciences. Dozens of other women have won Nobels since Curie broke the glass ceiling with X-rays.
Favorite fill: “NONE TAKEN,” and … well, that’s the only one that really called to me. There were some weird phrases in the fill. I MEAN NO, I LOSE, I AGREE, DID I WIN, I’M SLEEPY, I S’POSE, and partial I SEE A felt repetitive and often quite iffy on the “should this be a crossword entry?” front. (See also: YOU IDIOT.)
Six more things:
- 11d. [Mexican president Enrique Peña ___], NIETO. This would be a gimme to any American who’s been following current events, no?
- 46d. [Aid for the handy, informally], DIY KIT. Is this in the language? I am the furthest thing from a handy DIY person and I don’t see the appeal of bingeing on HGTV shows, so if the phrase is indeed in broad use, I’m not exposed to it.
- 100a. [Geometric toy whose sides change depending on how it’s folded], FLEXAGON. I didn’t know the term, though it was inferrable. Here’s a page that shows a bunch of different flexagon templates and sizes.
- 32d. [Guido who painted “Massacre of the Innocents”], RENI. Oh! Crosswordese painters. I’m sure his work is collected in museums, but he’s not someone whose name I encounter outside of puzzles.
- 55d. [Hit record?], SHINER. Cute clue. If you have a black eye because you were beaten up as opposed to in an MMA match, though, you probably aren’t keen on a cutesy clue here.
- 81d. [Rip off, informally], GYP. Not every dictionary flags this word as offensive, but enough do that constructors would be wise to avoid using it. I don’t know that most Americans realize how vituperative and widespread the bias against the Romani people is in Europe. You take an otherwise non-racist person and mention the Roma, and too often they launch into tales of crime.
Five stars for the theme, 2.5 stars for the fill.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Fantasy Football” – Erin’s writeup
Easier puzzle this week (I’m assuming, since my time was shorter than usual despite the cold virus particles taking over my brain), with a timely football theme for The Big Game. Am I allowed to say “Super Bowl” in a blog? Let’s find out. Anyway, the theme is football plays adapted into punny phrases based on who is executing the play.
- 23a. [Football play for Mr. Freeze?] CHILLY RECEPTION
- 41a. […for a train rider?] BOARDING PASS
- 50a. […for an angler?] FISHING TACKLE
- 69a. […for a pyromaniac?] FIRE SAFETY
- 71a. […for a reporter?] MEDIA BLITZ
- 88a. […for an architect?] BUILDING BLOCK
- 97a. […for Mr. Chaucer?] GEOFFREY RUSH
- 118a. […for an IRS agent?] INCOME TAX RETURN
GEOFFREY RUSH is my favorite. FIRE SAFETY generally is not something a pyromaniac takes into consideration, but thematically it fits just fine.
As for the fill, Frank LOESSER of “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” is new to me. DYSPNEA, NAUSEA, and SECRETES seem appropriate for flu season. The clue for Walter MATTHAU, [Einstein’s portrayer in the 1994 film “I.Q.”], brings a bright spot to my day. I thought this movie was adorable. Here’s a clip where Einstein and his friends help main character Ed cheat on an intelligence test in order to impress Einstein’s niece Catherine. (Note: I do not recommend lying or cheating in order to impress a love interest.) More next week, when my brain should be back to baseline.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Flock Party” — pannonica’s write-up
It’s the sheepapalooza punfest crossword you’ve been waiting for! You … have been waiting for this, right?
- 23a. [What sheep watch?] EWE TUBE (YouTube).
- 24a. [What sheep sing?] WE GOT THE BLEAT (… the beat).
- 39a. [What sheep exert?] WOOL POWER (willpower).
- 56a. [Sheep cabaret?] MOUFLON ROUGE (Moulon Rouge). Keeping it French.
- 61a. [Sheep spoof?] LAMBPOON (lampoon).
- 75a. [Unique sheep?] RARA OVIS (rara avis). Keeping it Latin. See also 5d [Aussie avians] EMUS.
- 77a. [Craze for trimming sheep?] SHEAR MADNESS (sheer …).
- 95a. [Guide for finding sheep?] WETHER MAP (weather …). In case you were unaware, a wether is a male sheep castrated before sexual maturity. The original bellwether.
- 111a. [Season’s greetings from a sheep?] FLEECE NAVIDAD (Feliz …). Not keeping it Spanish.
- 114a. [Sheeptown?] BAASTON. This feels like the punchline to the whole thing. Like a shaggy dog theme. Incidentally, only two other explicitly local elements in the puzzle: 101a [Fenway, e.g.] PARK, 17d [Div. for the Sox] AL EAST.
I guess the theme is okay. Depends on how much a mutton for punishment one is.
There were definitely some rough spots that IMPEDED (86d) a swift, easy denouement to my solve:
- In the northwest, 1d [Digital lingo] AMESLAN, which I guess is an alternative rendering of American Sign Language, commonly appearing in crosswords and elsewhere as ASL. 20a [Prosper who wrote “Carmen”] MÉRIMÉE. Who? Toss in that I had 4d [On fire] LIT as HOT, obscuring 1a [Rack] by the pattern –NTHERS when it was actually ANTLERS, and yes it was tough to resolve.
- Another strange variant at 93d [Feline hybrid] TIGLON. ♂ tiger + ♀ lion, usually called a TIGON (as opposed to a liger, with the parents’ genders reversed. Occasionally, interspecies hybrids occur in the wild, but deliberate and repetitive human-controlled matings irk me. Just look at this. I for one am not interested in the propagation of ‘jagjagupards’, ‘leoleguars’, and the like (this excludes the even more unwieldy female individuals that are given an -ess suffix).
- 47a [Very disinclined] UNEAGER is another odd duck, but it generated no hiccups in my solve. Ditto the portmanteau 13a [Flight of warplanes] AIRMADA.
- Oh! Nearly forgot. 82a [Thou, plural] completely fooled me. Even after finally getting the right answer GEES, I was still thinking of the archaic pronoun rather than the slang terms for a thousand. I was even looking at GEES and thinking of the directional voice commands gee and haw. Screwing up the nearby 106a [Super 8, e.g.] as MOTOR rather than MOTEL incurred further delays.
Time to go find some more filler …
- 8a [Guitar variant] DOBRO, 43a [Medieval strings] LUTES.
- 49a [Hipbones] ILIA, 97a [Epic tale of war] ILIAD. 50d [Segmented worm] ANNELID, 55d [Chronicles] ANNALS.
- After AIRMADA, another portmanteau: 48d [“Jabberwocky” word] MIMSY.
Hardly any cutesy, clever, or tricksy clues among the ballast fill, perhaps because the theme sort of goes overboard on that score.
So: a solid crossword. Again, enjoyment likely commensurate with one’s tolerance.
Don Gagliardo and C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Sounds About Right”—Amy’s write-up
Took me a while to grasp the theme. Take a familiar phrase with an animal in it, swap out the animal for a sound it makes (or rather, the verb that represents that sound), and clue the resulting phrase:
- 21a. [Sign of a lawn tractor problem?], HISS IN THE GRASS. Snake.
- 26a. [Inhospitable medical fraud?], COLD QUACK. Cold Duck sparkling wine.
- 41a. [Landscaping mulch specialists?], BARK HANDLERS. Dog handlers.
- 67a. [“Ahooga!” producer?], SILLY HONK. Goose.
- 71a. [Hard golf club to swing?], GRUNT IRON. Pig iron.
- 96a. [Excitement about the producer of the original “Charlie’s Angels”?], SPELLING BUZZ. Aaron Spelling, bee.
- 111a. [Playful crib liner?], SQUEAK PAD. Mouse.
- 119a. [Posting that periodically reposts itself?], MIGRATORY TWEET. Bird.
The theme works fairly well, but doesn’t resonate with me very strongly.
Five more things:
- 103a. [Type of counter seen in kitchens?], CALORIE. A calorie counter is just a person who’s watching their intake, right? A kitchen scale can’t measure calories.
- 79d. [Return from searching?], GOOGLE HIT. Great clue, great entry!
- 60a. [Restless desire], ITCH / 101d. [Itches], YEARNS. D’oh! Somebody get the calamine lotion—this puzzle’s too itchy.
- 82d. [Indian lentil stew], DAL. The best DAL I ever had was at my husband’s colleague’s house. The colleague’s wife made the dal and said there was a whole bunch of butter in it. Mmmm, butter! I’ve been disappointed by dal since then, because it’s so yummy with all that butter!
- 84d. [Chip flavoring], SOUR CREAM. Also, if you don’t have plain yogurt to cool down the heat of the DAL or other spicy Indian food, I find sour cream works well. (Note to self: We’re out of chutney, pick some up this week.)
Felt like there was a good bit of crosswordese in this grid—ERL, ILA, HBAR, ISITI, and so on. 3.25 stars from me.