David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword, “Vowel Play”—Amy’s write-up
The title is … a pun on “foul play”? Either a pun or just weird. Anyway, the grid calls out a bunch of squares, and those work like a 2-letter rebus square in the theme entries’ crossings, but each theme answer has two clues, for two distinct answers that share the same consonants but differ in their vowels:
- 22a. [Richard Simmons diet regimen / London tabloid], DEAL-A-MEAL / DAILY MAIL.
- 29a. [What a red pepper on a menu may signal / Made clear], SPICY FOOD / SPECIFIED. And yes, the Y is playing the role of a vowel where it appears in the theme.
- 43a. [Preceder of free throws / Juice container?], FOUL CALL / FUEL CELL.
- 69a. [Fooler / Summer Olympics standout], TRICKSTER / TRACK STAR.
- 94a. [Harry Potter’s ex-girlfriend / Register sound], CHO CHANG / CHA-CHING.
- 110a. [“He’s so lame!” / Deer variety], “WHAT A TOOL!” / WHITETAIL.
- 118a. [Thin neckwear / Assam or Earl Grey], STRING TIE / STRONG TEA.
- 42d. [Cookies filled with green creme / Flattish sea creatures], MINT OREOS / MANTA RAYS.
- 47d. [Risky / Denim attire], DANGEROUS / DUNGAREES.
Really neat theme! And executed well, without crappy fill surrounding the rebus zones. CHO CHANG/CHA-CHING is my favorite of the set. You know, if Wheel of Fortune didn’t include spaces and punctuation on its game board, these could all mess with a player’s head before somebody’s bought a vowel.
I assume David assembled the theme set via an automated dragging of a word list or corpus, as I think he has the comp SCI (computer science, not comparative science) know-how.
- 114d. [Only N.F.L. team ever to go 0-16 for a season], LIONS. That’s an old fact, and this clue’s apparently updated in online versions. It appeared in the .puz file when I downloaded it. Cleveland has tied Detroit’s sad achievement.
- 60a. [Really bothered], TORE AT. Now, this is the counterpart to the verb + preposition entries I liked in Wentz’s Saturday puzzle. “That just tore at me!” Who says that? Hardly anybody. I did the “sold off” and “tore at” test on my husband—define this, use it in a sentence. “I tore at an apple pie” was what he came up with. It’s really not a familiar usage, this “really bothered.”
- 76a. [SoCal-based sneaker brand], L.A. GEAR. In the grid, I was parsing that as LAG EAR. Like a lop-eared rabbit.
- 23d. [Moscow landmark], LENIN’S TOMB. Great entry.
- 13d. [Flare-ups in the hood?], CAR FIRES. My eyebrow went up, way up, till I realized “the hood” referred to the metal hinged thing above a car engine and not a city neighborhood.
4.5 stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Hybrids” – Jenni’s writeup
We’re not talking about cars in this puzzle. Each theme answer combines an animal and a person.
- 23a [Hybrid of an aquarium fish and a jazz legend?] is BETTA JAMES (betta fish, Etta James).
- 25a [… a deer and a “Harry and Tonto” actor?] gives us HART CARNEY (hart, Art Carney).
- 15d [… a small finch and an environmental activist?] is the most obscure of the lot with SERIN BROCKOVICH (serin, Erin Brockovich).
- 48d [… a stingray relative and an “Underworld” actress?] is SKATE BECKINSALE (skate, Kate Beckinsale).
- 58a [… a mountain lion and a “Kill Bill” actress?] is PUMA THURMAN (puma, Uma Thurman).
- 72a [… a marine mammal and a Revolutionary War spy?] switches it up and puts the animal second. NATHAN WHALE (Nathan Hale, whale). I regret that I have only one blowhole to give for my country.
- 86a [… a big cat and a Disney executive?] ROBERT TIGER (Robert Iger, tiger).
- 123a [… a ewe and a Dickens villain?] is URIAH SHEEP (Uriah Heep, sheep).
- 127a [… a long-nosed fish and a Kings of Rhythm musician?] is PIKE TURNER (pike, Ike Turner). I know Ike Turner’s violent acts toward Tina were a long time ago. Let’s remember what he did.
At first I thought all the answers in the bottom half of the puzzle had the animal last, but PIKE TURNER broke that pattern. Still a really nice and amusing theme. Thumbs up.
A few more things:
- 10a [Small pest] is a MIDGE. She was always tagging along after Barbie.
- 43d [Five-time all-star catcher Jorge] POSADA. Jorge was one of the Core Four – homegrown players who anchored the great Yankees teams of the 1990s. The other three were Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettite. Ah, those were the days.
- 62a [___ Field (Mets’ home)] gives the NY NLers equal time. The answer is CITI.
- 63d [Any crossword clue’s number] is an INTEGER. Leopold Kronecker wrote “God created the integers. All the rest is the work of man.” A story circulated when I was in college that someone wrote that on the front page of their math final and added “I lead a holy life.”
- 119a [Smart of “Get Smart”] is MAXWELL. Alternate clue: possessor of a silver hammer.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Brian ENO wrote something called “Neroli,” which is apparently “thinking music.” It was still a gimme; a three-letter answer clued with a musician? Always try ENO first.
Here’s Leslie Odom, Jr singing the blues.
Pancho Harrison’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “According to Your Résumé …”—Amy’s write-up
The theme takes familiar phrases and reinterprets them as if the first word is a verb:
- 22a. [“… you’ve repaired planes for civilian pilots, but can you __?”], SERVICE ACES. I don’t think mechanics service the customers, do they? They service the vehicles?
- 34a. [“… you’ve made indie films, but can you __?”], DIRECT HITS. I assume all fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time know that the movie’s coming out this spring, directed by Ava DuVernay. She’s the first black female director to land a movie with a ≥$100 million budget. The cast looks terrific.
- 40a. [“… you’ve made decorative bowls, but can you __?”], FASHION PLATES.
- 69a. [“… you’ve conned small-time dealers with your forgeries, but can you __?”], SNOW FENCES.
- 74a. [“… you’ve monitored planets with your telescope, but can you __?”], TRACK STARS. Ha! This answer appears in the same area of the grid in the NYT puzzle. (See also: MRS. C in a Down answer in the top middle of the grid. Also see also: “Mrs. de Winter” in the 13d clue, just four clues after MRS. C was an answer.)
- 100a. [“… you’ve coached gymnasts, but can you __?”], TRAIN SPOTTERS.
- 107a. [“… you’ve run dining rooms, but can you __?”], HANDLE BARS.
- 125a. [“… you’ve written non-theatrical prose, but can you __?”], SUPPLY LINES. This one feels sort of iffy. Theatrical prose is what we call a play, not “lines.”
Theme is decent, mildly amusing.
The fill, though, felt like a parade of dusty crosswordese and clunky entries. When THEDA Bara crosses I’D’VE in the 1-Across corner, you know you’re in for things like AGER, MT. IDA, ESSO, ASSAI, OTTO I, DONEE, SAONE, SAHIB, N-TEST, ELEVE, and ITAL. If the constructor’s using the autofill function to fill his grids, perhaps his word list is in need of polishing. Just about all of these answers should be given a very low score so they don’t pop up in grids unless a section is extremely difficult to fill any more cleanly.
Five more things:
- 52a. [Latin clarifier], ID EST / 119d. [In __: existing], ESSE. Latin dupe! EST and ESSE are two forms of the Latin verb “to be,” yes? Neither one is great fill by itself.
- 58d. [Exxon, formerly]. ESSO. Hey! There is a electronic pop duo called Sylvan Esso whose 2017 album is nominated for a Grammy. I’d never heard of them till seeing that Best Dance/Electronic Album nomination, though.
- 27a. [Trendy greeting], CIAO. Whaaat?? How is this “trendy”?
- 84d. [Michael Jackson compilation album], KING OF POP. Great entry—it’s also Jackson’s nickname, of course.
- In general, though, the fill was 43d. [Party-pooperish], NO FUN.
2.5 stars from me. The fill dragged down what would’ve been a fun puzzle with smoother fill.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Off the Menu” — pannonica’s write-up
Non-food items deliberately misconstrued as comestibles.
- 24a. [Toast topper for Uber drivers?] TRAFFIC JAM.
- 26a. [Buns for bongo players?] DRUM ROLLS.
- 45a. [Drink for the harebrained?] RABBIT PUNCH.
- 56a. [Pecans for pilots?] WING NUTS.
- 65a. [Spread for hunters?] GAME PRESERVES. I’m tired of seeing this lighthearted-seeming term for a cruel and archaic practice.
- 73a. [Candy for beach bums?] SAND BARS.
- 81a. [Snack for an arsonist?] FIRE CRACKERS.
- 103a. [Pie topping for equestrians?] HORSE WHIP. That’s cruel and unnecessary too. Also, ‘WHIP’ as a designation for such a topping isn’t in my lexicon. It’s whipped cream. I’m guessing regionalism. F’rinstance, m-w.com lists prune whip as a thing.
- 106a. [Dessert for launderers?] CAKE OF SOAP. Ooh, three-word entry.
Not part of the theme: 1d [Salad or soup] COURSE, 11d [Brit’s sour candy] ACID DROP—that doesn’t sound appetizing at all, 60d [Gooey concoction] S’MORE, 65d [Chicken heart, e.g.] GIBLET, 82d [French pancake] CRÊPE, 94d [Garlicky mayos] AÏOLIS, and more.
- 42a [Cable box’s spot] SET TOP. Even in the age of flat-screen televisions everywhere?
- 49a [K-Cup disposable] POD. Not environmentally friendly at all. I feel there should be limited applications for such drink makers.
- 41d/63a [Morse unit] DIT, DOT. Referring to the same thing. Dit/dah (spoken) = dot/dash (written).
- 70a [Key material] IVORY. “Onetime” type qualifier, please? This seems a particularly environmentally-hostile/animal-cruel crossword.
- 8d [Cool and collected] CALM.
- 3d [Unwelcome bunk] GUFF, 97d [Steam engine sound] CHUFF.
- 27d [180-degree turn] UEY. The proper spelling.
- 36d [Bully] HECTOR. These are verbs. To hector someone is to bully them. In the Iliad, Achilles abused Hector, Paris’ older brother.
- With nothing yet filled in, I took a flyer on 2d [Mental grasp] and tried ACUITY, but soon learned from crossings it was to be UPTAKE.
- 64a [Show sum sense?] ADD. *groan*
- 34d [Buffalo NHLer] SABRE, 23a [Edmonton team] OILERS, 117a [Rink users] SKATERS.
- 46d [Word giving us “Cajun”] ACADIAN.
- 80d [Lingo in an Orwell book] NEWSPEAK. Stay on your toes.
Thirteen o’clock, time for lunch!