Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
So the theme is tied together by 58a. [Disney character hinted at by the circled letters], PINOCCHIO, whose nose grew whenever he was LYING ([What causes the circled letters to grow?]). The circled letters spell out NOSE in four themers, starting out condensed and spreading out (or getting “longer”) as you progress through the grid.
- 17a. [What zero bars on a cellphone indicates], NO SERVICE.
- 23a. [Viking tales, e.g.], NORSE LITERATURE. Have you heard about the new Neil Gaiman book, Norse Mythology? It’s a contemporary retelling of the tales of Norse mythology. I hear good things about it.
- 37a. [Experts on the brain], NEUROSCIENTISTS. Hello, Huda and colleagues! I admire the hell out of you.
- 46a. [Baseball, in America], NATIONAL PASTIME. At some point, I imagine binge-watching will supplant baseball here.
Solidly conceived theme with a neat execution.
I’m less enamored of the fill than the theme. I mean, starting off your 1-Across with [Defunct gridiron org.], XFL? It lasted for one embarrassing season in 2001 and is of no importance—and it kicked off the puzzle on a sour note. ODEA VEE AGASP? Note that AGASP is not included in any modern and reputable dictionaries listed in onelook.com. There’s also obsolete ICHAT, and MOIRA, which doesn’t have much in the way of household-name clue options (my personal favorite is Catherine O’Hara’s character on Schitt’s Creek, which is such a funny show), but it seems weird to go with an older character name ([“On the Beach” heroine]) rather than the standard crossword MOIRA, ballet dancer and film actress Shearer. Also weird to clue the super-common word EASTERN via yet another obsolete thing: [Old airline with the slogan “We have to earn our wings every day”].
I know plenty of solvers happily overlook clunkers in the fill, but it definitely colors my experience with a puzzle. Three stars from me.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 305), “Valiant Effort”—Janie’s take
Easy-peasy theme today, with some tricky patches to keep the solve a bit challenging. In what way is the theme “easy-peasy”? We’re working with synonyms, and the first word of every theme phrase is a variant of that titular “valiant.” The beauty part is that each uniquely excellent theme phrase is also associated with an art form, from the loftiest to the most popular. This kind of range keeps the themers lively as well as accessible to solvers with diverse strengths in their knowledge “wheelhouses.” See if you don’t agree.
- 20A. HEROIC POETRY [Genre that includes the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”]. Yes, these examples are sometimes referred to as epic poetry (as they are here [which adds that the terms can sometimes be used interchangeably]), but I’m not about to argue with Encyclopædia [sic] Brittanica. Regardless, we’re talkin’ classic literature here, of the lofty variety.
- 35A. “BOLD AS LOVE” [1967 song by the Jimi Hendrix Experience]. Classic rock. Pop culture. But guess what? This was a tricky spot for me. How about you? “BOLD AS LOVE” or “BOLD IS LOVE”? Since (before solving) I had no idea how to respond to the clue [Capital of Kazakhstan], I was stymied. The correct answer is ASTANA. And was “capital” referring to the country’s currency or seat of government? For the record, it’s the latter. (For anyone interested, the former is the Kazakhstani tenge…) But here’s some great crossword glue to go along with all this talk of this former SSR (itself formerly ruled by the TSAR…). Look who’s there at 1D. [“Borat” creator SACHA Baron Cohen]. In case you’d forgotten, the movie’s full title is Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Yes. All this from some confusion about an “A” or an “I.” Where this topic is concerned, “MIR out…”
42A. GUTSY SMURF [Blue toon voiced by Alan Cumming in a 2011 flick]. See? He’s not just the omniscient and ominous host of Masterpiece Mystery on PBS, or The Good Wife‘s slick Eli Gold on CBS. Given the less-than-welcoming reception this movie received, this had to be a guilty-pleasure kinda gig, right? Or set of gigs, as there’s (omg) a TV short and a sequel! Low-brow movies of the kitschy variety. To conclude, we go from the deliciously ridiculous to the seriously sublime with
- 56A. “FEARLESS GIRL” [Bronze sculpture in Manhattan’s Financial District (she made headlines on International Women’s Day in March 2017)]. Is that a beautiful and fresh entry or what? In case you missed it, read up! (I think you’ll be glad you did.) And so the theme set concludes with contemporary fine arts.
In the remainder of the fill, I’m not keen for the fact that there are two entries whose length matches two of the themers. That said—both give us terrific fill: CROSSWORDS (I mean, really, what’s not to like?) and the equally excellent “KEEP IT REAL” [“Be yourself”]. We’re also treated to the solid mid-rangers FUSSIER (with its colorful, colloquial clue [More persnickety]) and LOW CARB. While I wish LITE (which crosses the “L” of LOW CARB) weren’t clued as [Low-calorie] (giving us clue/fill repetition), I do like the crossing “diet” entries. (And that AUDI and AUTO live to either side of O’HARA.)
Ymmv where clue/fill repetition is concerned (I’m not much of a fan), but there’s another one with [Left on a map] WEST and MAPS [Tourists’ aids]. Probably because I love to pore over MAPS myself, however, I was tickled by the analog answer, happy not to see some version of GPS.
Elsewhere around the grid, I was happy to see: AIRBED and SERAPE, BOOTY and ELVES, “I HOPE” and ADORE, SATYR and BRATS. Not particularly enthusiastic about the functional MYOPE (which crosses two themers and is thus a bit constricted) and am having trouble parsing the [Trademark symbols] LOGOS pairing. For easier access to the answer, doesn’t the clue want to be [Trademarked symbols]?
Why am I so, um, persnickety? Because the theme set is so very good, I want every detail of the puzz to be as strong. And believe me, I don’t for a minute think this a “bad” puzzle. Not by a longshot. [Thought leader?] for AFTER made me laugh. Maybe ya had to be there, but it struck me funny that although AFTER may precede “thought,” an AFTERthought doesn’t lead anything. Though on second thought, I guess it could lead to continued discussion…
Continue this discussion, if you’d like, in the Comments section, where your take on the puzzle is most welcome. Thx for reading and, as always: keep solving. See you back here next week!
Daniel Hamm’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Stick to Your Guns” — Jim’s review
Hidden word theme! That word being ARMS as revealed by 63a‘s BEARING ARMS clued as [Ready for battle, like the other long Across answers?]
- 17a [Institution with Post graduates?] CHARM SCHOOL. At first I was thinking a military academy and an army post. But the capitalization is the hint that it’s a proper name, in this case referring to Emily Post, the etiquette expert.
- 25a [Burglar deterrent] ALARM SYSTEM
- 38a [Rural property] FARMSTEAD. The only entry that doesn’t split the hidden word—a small inconsistency.
- 54a [Georgia site of FDR’s “Little White House”] WARM SPRINGS. Can’t say I recall the name, but I do remember watching a documentary on FDR which mentioned his rehabilitative treatments in Georgia. Can you imagine someone getting elected to the presidency today with such a significant handicap? Oh wait…
I’m not too thrilled about hidden word themes since there isn’t much wordplay involved. But this strikes me as a fair theme for a Tuesday.
A 9-letter central themer means our corners will have lots of vertical 3s or else 6s and 7s. Today it’s 6s and 7s, many of which are nice like EXHALES, AT LARGE, RAIN MAN, and PAWPAWS. Plus, a shout-out to PERSIST, a word which has become a rallying cry. In the center we have SNOW SHOES, ROSSINI, and GRAPPLERS, plus, the improbable but fun word WICCAN.
There are an unusually high number of 3-letter words in the grid. I counted 28 where most times constructors try to keep that number under 20. The 11-letter themers in the 3rd and 13th rows are to blame for a lot of them, but I can’t say I noticed them too much while solve. Well, except for ELS, IST, ISR, DES, ORR, and my archenemy SST.
Clues of note:
- 1d [Worked for chicken feed]. PECKED. Nice.
- 45a [Dill pickle quarter]. SPEAR. I kept wondering which state would have a dill pickle on its quarter. Good clue.
In the end, despite all the three-letter words and not-terribly-exciting theme, this puzzle does its job with mostly good fill.
I wonder if our constructor has some Nintendo stock. One of the titles on the new Nintendo Switch is a boxing-type game entitled ARMS. Check out the trailer below. Until next time!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “SMarvelous” – Derek’s write-up
I was a little harsh on Matt last week on what was actually a pretty good puzzle; we are back to Matt’s clever ways this week! The blurb ” ‘meaningful to the theme, too” hints at what is going on: let’s add an S to the front of several common phrases. The last one is, as it should be, the funniest!
- 18A [Take-away signs of happiness?] SMILES-TO-GO
- 34A [Rough purchase at the dairy?] SMACK AND CHEESE
- 42A [1980s actor Corey hawking some tart fruit candies?] SMARTIE FELDMAN
- 59A [“If something can go wrong, Gargamel will never get it right?”] SMURFY’S LAW
Who am I kidding? These are ALL really good! I wish I could make puzzles this smooth! Maybe when I retire! 4.4 stars for this humorous construction!
Some more notes:
- 29A [They directed “O Brother Where Art Thou?”] COENS – A funny movie, loosely based on The Odyssey. If you have never seen this, give it a shot: it is one of the movies I have actually seen!!
- 69A [Employer of Serpico or Sipowicz] NYPD – Serpico was an Al Pacino role, I think. Sipowicz was on N.Y.P.D. Blue, also if my memory serves me right. Too lazy to look it up!
- 7D [The Manning with more Super Bowl MVP awards] ELI – This has to chap Peyton something awful! Both Mannings have two wins, though. Von Miller was the MVP when Manning’s Denver Broncos won in early 2016 in his final game.
- 10D [Sign your dog is healthy, maybe] WET NOSE – I had heard this before, and I haven’t owned a dog in over 30 years!
- 43D [Stated as fact] AVERRED – AVER is definitely crosswordese-ish, but this is actually rare enough that I wondered if I spelled it correctly!
- 45D [Bausch & __ ] LOMB – I wear contacts a lot less frequently now; usually only when I play sports. I am blind and getting blinder as I age!
- 61D [Kobe’s old team, on scoreboards] LAL – The Los Angeles Lakers are LAL, the Clippers are LAC (both NBA). Kobe needs to go away for a while; I was never a huge fan of his, but he did win lots of championships!
Still in the process of moving. Maybe a pic of our new house on here someday! (Or more likely on Facebook!)
Agnes Davidson & C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I would have finished this in under 3 minutes, but I had one square incorrect as you can see in the image. This kind of rushing can kill you in a crossword tournament, so I try and double check all of those crossings as I go. But I was zipping through, and I should have known that TURI wasn’t an entry! Another clever theme by C.C. and Agnes, whom I believe have collaborated before, but I could be mistaken. A very clean and clever theme, tightly done, and a nice reveal at the end:
- 17A [Verizon invoice, e.g.] PHONE BILL
- 30A [Second wife of Henry VIII] ANNE BOLEYN
- 47A [Country divider that allows unrestricted travel] OPEN BORDER
- 11D [Molecular link with two pairs of electrons shared by two atoms] DOUBLE BOND
- 29D [“Button-Down Mind” comedian] BOB NEWHART
- 63A [Sensitive elbow area, and a literal hint to the circled letters] FUNNY BONE
Pretend the red letters are circled! Six whopping theme entries, and all common, casual phrases. It is harder to make easy puzzles, I feel, and this is well done. 4.1 stars.
A few other mentions:
- 15A [Governor Kasich’s state] OHIO – This is near my neck of the woods, so I knew this immediately..
- 6D [“Hmm, gotta think about that …”] OH, I DUNNO – One of several casual phrases in this puzzle that make great answers!
- 9D [“Mom’s gonna kill us!”] WE’RE TOAST! – See what I mean?
- 28D [Nosy one] SNOOP – No reference to Snoop Dogg the rapper??
- 35D [Milk-souring warning number] USE-BY DATE – Awesome! ZERO NYT occurrences, according to xwordinfo.com. Very nicely done!
- 43D [Rice-A-__ ] RONI – I have said it before, and I will repeat: I love this stuff!
- 49D [Online rent-a-room option] AIR BNB – This garnered only one hit on an NYT search. Never used this service myself, but I hear it’s a decent option.
It’s not warm yet!!! Enjoy your week!