Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 335), “‘Spelling’ Divas”—Janie’s take
“Trick or treat,” y’all. And today’s puzz, in the humblest of my opinions, is one multi-layered treat. First of all, a larger grid: 21×21, with mirror symmetry. Then, a punny title: the quotes around spelling tell us that something’s afoot. Turns out, it’s about those divas. They’re not in a Scripps National competition; it’s Halloween, so they’re casting spells. There are five divas in the grid, each clued by way of the movie or stage show in which she portrayed, um, a speller—so, four screen divas, one Broadway diva. And finally: there’s that fabulous connect-the-dots finale. Check out the completed grid at right. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody does it better.
- 54D. [“Spelling” expert … and the role played by the answers to the starred clues] WITCH.
- 3D. *[“Into the Woods”] MERYL STREEP. That’s the film version, of course. Bernadette Peters originated the role in the B’way production.
- 4D. *[“Beautiful Creatures”] EMMA THOMPSON. New to me. Looks to be a middlin’ kind of pic at best, but with Ms. THOMPSON and Jeremy Irons…? Well, I suppose could be persuaded to borrow it from the libe.
- 14D. *[“Practical Magic”] NICOLE KIDMAN. She and Sandra Bullock are WITCH sisters in this one. Saw it, but have virtually no memory of it.
- 15D. *[“Wicked”] IDINA MENZEL. Here’s our B’way star, who—like all of the women she’s sharing grid-time with—is as equally at home in film-world as they are on the live stage. Finally, the pièce de résistance, the grandmommy of them all:
- 112A *[With 115-Across, “The Wizard of Oz”] MARGARET HAMILTON. Saving the best for last. Note how she’s encompassed by the brim of that headwear. Terrific.
So these are the themers, but look around the puzzle and you’ll find more than a handful of bonus fill—words, names, clues that tie into Halloween or the world of horror or mystery or spectral occurrences. I’d include:
- [Make caramel apples] DIP
- [Nancy Drew writer Carolyn] KEENE. And you all know that “Carolyn KEENE” is an ANONYM [Fictitious name], right—the cover name for many ghostwriters? (There’s an appropriate word for today, no?) Check out the titles in the Nancy Drew oeuvre. She did her sleuthing in a lotta (Halloween-appropriate) “haunted” places.
- [Big name in fairy-tale writing] GRIMM. The source of so much material for Stephen Sondheim when he was writing Into the Woods.
- [Surrounding glows] AURAE
- [“Batman” star Michael] KEATON—because how many kids still love to dress up as Batman for Halloween? Or even in (plastic) ARMOR [Knight wear]. Or, hey: IRON MAN, wittily clued as [Superhero’s favorite triathlon?].
- [2009 slasher film] SAW VI. Never even SAW one…
- [Movie villain’s look] SNEER. Brings to mind someone like Vincent Price in The House on Haunted Hill…
- [Accessory for a 54-Down] HAT. And did Liz ever render a great one in the circled “A” through “R” connect-the-dots portion of the puzz. That’s a HAT with character!
Lotta character/range of interests and variety in a lotta the remaining fill, too. PHOENIX [Bird that rose from the ashes] and CHORTLE [Gleeful laugh], LEONARD [Maestro Bernstein] and psychologist B.F. SKINNER, SASHAY and SANG TO, TINSEL and NIOBIUM [Steel-gray element used in jewelry], ERITREA and LARAMIE, JOLIET and ALBANY, MEL OTT and [“Good Times” actor Walker] JIMMIE, NAIL IT and SIPHON, BASS HORN and AMATI, DEFIANT and DE SADE, WALKS ON and GO PAST, TUSCAN and TRAITS, AGES AGO and EVER SO.
CONCEIT [Narcissism] and EGOMANIAC [Self-absorbed person] make a strong pairing (sound like anyone we know in Washington, D.C.?…), and there’s also a (metaphorical) bond to be found between EPOXY [Adhesive resin used in home repairs] and [Fixes firmly in place] EMBEDS.
We get some nice, twisty question-marked clues with [World views?] for MAPS—so this isn’t about opinions or personal perspectives, and [Long rides?] for LIMOS, speaking not to the duration of the journey, but the lengthy vehicle it might be taken in.
Less than bright spots? The repeated “RA-” in [“TOO-RA-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral”] (that being a traditional song from EIRE [The Emerald Isle]), and the functional MNOP [L-Q link]. Nope, they’re not the KEENEST. But here’s the thing: in a puzzle of this size and quality, this pretty much amounts to nuthin’. And when you get a 50¢-er like the juicy UNANIMOUS, all is forgiven. Oh! or the reminder of [“Krazy” feline] KAT. Just finished reading a superb biography by Michael Tisserand of cartoonist George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat. Highly recommended. You’re welcome! ;-)
Debbie Ellerin’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Beware of Ghosts” — Laura’s write-up
“BOO” (the traditional utterance of ghosts) has been added to common phrases, resulting in terrifying wackiness, like thus:
- [18a: Primate research subject?]: TEST BABOON
- [28a: Least desirable cars on a train?]: WORST CABOOSES
- [50a: Fast food reservation?]: BURGER BOOKING
- [62a: Knitted footwear for swine?]: HOG BOOTIES
A solidly executed if not particularly SEXY [33a: Hot, in a way] theme type, with many possibilities: [Chicken AND (pork OR beef)?]: BOOLEAN MEAT, [Potato bonus?]: TATER TO BOOT, [Apiary public relations?]: BEE BOOSTING. The only entry that didn’t quite fit was BURGER BOOKING, since the vowel sound changes. Or do some people say boo-king? (I was saying Boo-urns.) Nothing to UGH [45d: Disgusted groan] about in the fill: AHA! AXL ACE ARK? ASK APU, AOK!
Thing I learned: I had heard of DELFT but I didn’t know specifically that it was [68a: Dutch earthenware].
Thing that rhymes with schnitzel with noodles: Crisp apple STRUDELs [59a: Austrian treat].
Alex Eaton-Salners’ New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
‘Tis the season for Martin Luther quincentennial puzzles. The Saturday 10/28 puzzle at Crosswords With Friends was Lynn Lempel’s offering, and the Times weighs in here with a bigger trivia set:
- 1a/65a. [With 65-Across, author of the “Ninety-Five Theses,” posted on 10/31/1517], MARTIN / LUTHER.
- 17a/24a. [With 24-Across, movement resulting from the “Ninety-Five Theses”], PROTESTANT / REFORMATION.
- 36a. [Building where the “Ninety-Five Theses” were posted], ALL SAINTS CHURCH. This angle was news to me. You could argue for dropping this 15 from the theme set, which already has answers of 6/10/11/11/10/6 letters. Could smooth out some rough spots in the fill of this Tuesday grid.
- 47a. [Practice condemned in the “Ninety-Five Theses”], INDULGENCES. What’s the contemporary political equivalent?
- 58a. [City where the “Ninety-Five Theses” were written], WITTENBERG.
Four more things:
- 62a. [“It’s all clear to me now!”], “AH, I SEE.” What? No. I imagine most solvers hit the skids when they came to the crossing of this odd phrase’s H and 59d. [Madame ___ of 1960s Vietnam], NHU. See also: 37d “I DIG,” another shabby excuse for an “I” phrase.
- 26d. [Sack seeker], PASS RUSHER. Had no idea that PASS RUSHER was a thing. Husband says it is, but he doesn’t like the clue. “I seek sacks,” yeah.
- 46d. [Post production?], CEREAL. Post brand breakfast cereals, of course. I like that this clue’s in a puzzle where some theme clues mention that Luther’s theses were “posted.”
- 7a. [Leatherworker’s tool], AWL. I wonder if this country has more people using AWLs as sewing tools or as leather-working tools.
3.4 stars from me.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I like Jeffrey Wechsler’s puzzles. There is a vibe about them, although I cannot quite articulate what that entails. Perhaps an air of, shall we say, scholarship? Extremely enjoyable. We have one of the themes that use all five vowels, this time in phrases that all start with P?T:
- 18A [“Evita” Tony-winning actress] PATTI LUPONE
- 25A [Coast Guard rank] PETTY OFFICER
- 37A [Roberto Clemente, notably] PITTSBURGH PIRATE
- 48A [Ceramics shaper] POTTER’S WHEEL
- 59A [Tinker in the workshop] PUTTER ABOUT
In my neck of the woods we might say “putter around,” but this is still fine. The world will be a better place if we do NOT imitate Hoosier language nuances! Another fun one from Jeffrey, and I look forward to his next one. 4.4 stars.
A few more things:
- 22A [Fort full of gold] KNOX – Is it still? You never hear of this place much.
- 41A [“__-daisy!”] UPSY – Can this be spelled UPSI?
- 33D [“What a harebrained idea!”] IT’S STUPID! – Oh, how many times I have wished to say this to someone … !
- 50D [Light bulb units] WATTS – Also, an area in Los Angeles. But probably one with, sadly, not the greatest connotation.
- 59D [It’s mightier than the 52-Down, so they say] PEN – 52D is SWORD, so very nicely done. Especially nice that they are fairly close; I hate having to root around a grid trying to find the other match in these types of clues.
See you on Saturday for another LAT challenger!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Drive” – Derek’s write-up
I have stated many times that I am not the most creative of people. Maybe I set the bar too high, perhaps as if every crossword theme I have has to dazzle and be the “best.” This theme idea is probably not that original, not that clever, and there are only three thematic entries (unless I am missing something!). Yet, this puzzle was a lot of fun to solve! The non-thematic fill DOES matter quite a lot, and Matt does a swell job with this one. Yes, there is an ENOL in here (which could possibly be switched to ENOS/I SET if you can clue the latter better!), but that is about it for dreck. The theme has to do simply with gears in a car:
- 19A [Some Yosemite employees] PARK RANGERS
- 36A [Boxing ring area] NEUTRAL CORNER
- 57A [Deceptive temmis tactic] REVERSE SPIN
Nothing complicated. Nothing deep. And yet still fun! A solid 4.2 stars.
A few more things:
- 1A [“Stay” singer Lisa] LOEB – Crossword famous she is! Believe it or not, she is now 49 years old!
- 18A [__ Crag (climbing challenge on Nickoledeon’s “Guts”)] AGGRA – The obscure pop culture reference this week is not a song, but a show on Nick I have never seen!
- 22A [“Hooked ___ Feeling”] ON A – A familiar pop culture reference! Although the band, Blue Swede, is quite obscure! Why do I only remember this from Ally McBeal?
- 2D [From Fiji or New Zealand, more broadly] OCEANIAN – This seems like it’s a made up term, but I’m sure it’s probably real. Or is it … ?
- 12D [“These aren’t the __ you’re looking for”] DROIDS – This is from a Star Wars movie, although I have no idea which one. One of the last two, I think.
- 20D [Surname of “Captin America: Civil War” directors Anthony and Joe] RUSSO – What is wrong with Rene RUSSO??
- 27D [Sideshow Bob’s former boss] KRUSTY – Even the Simpson’s references are getting long in the tooth!
- 48D [It keeps your car in place, slangily] E. BRAKE – I have never called the emergency brake an “e-brake”. Maybe that’s a West Coast thing!
That is all! Have a great week!