Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword, “Character Building”—Amy’s write-up
Nifty theme. Start with the word I, and add one letter at a time till you’ve got STARTLING. Take a familiar phrase for each of those words, add in the letter for the next step to make a goofball phrase, and clue it accordingly:
- 23a. [Equally pensive?], IN THOUGHT AS MUCH. Building on I thought as much.
- 30a. [Commit a peccadillo?], SIN SOME SMALL WAY. Adds an S to in some small way.
- 47a. [Perform the hit “Things I Should Have Said”?], SING OF OMISSION.
- 55a. [The Police frontman filming a shampoo commercial?], STING IN THE SHOWER.
- 66a. [Tying packages, securing helium balloons, etc.?], STRING OPERATIONS.
- 77a. [The Beatles showing absolute amazement?], STARING QUARTET.
- 93a. [First weapons used in a knife fight?], STARTING DAGGERS.
- 105a. [Surprising group of suspects?], STARTLING LINE-UP.
Some mildly humorous angles in the theme entries, but only very mildly. Words like STRING and STARTING don’t really lend themselves to uproarious laughs, do they?
Just five more things, because it’s dinner time:
- 38d. [One seeing ghosts], EBENEZER SCROOGE. A 15 crossing three of the themers, balanced by math-book PROBLEM SECTIONS, which isn’t a phrase I use, but Byron teaches math so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here.
- 20a. [Pauses for service], TEA TIMES / 106d. [Alternative to café], THÉ. Beverage cognate dupe! Far apart in the grid, though, and the definite article THE is boring, and it would dupe THE PIANIST.
- 110a. [Lean fillet, as of lamb], NOISETTE. If you’d asked me to define that word, I might have thought roasted hazelnuts were involved. I have little use for French meat terminology. (And! The dictionary tells me that I’m also right—chocolate made with hazelnuts is noisette, too.) Baa.
- 3d. [Metaphoric acknowledgment, HAT TIP. Shortened in social media to h/t, sometimes. As in “Thanks for bringing this to my attention; I tip my hat to you.”
- 60a. [Golden State, informally], CALI. I was going to post a video for an old “Going Back to Cali” rap classic, but got distracted by Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” instead. (If you don’t know her music, you probably know her as the actress who played Mary Jackson, the engineer in Hidden Figures.) The song came out about a week ago, and a Facebook friend of mine said watching the video had made her even more queer. That’s high praise.
Four stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Bonus Features” – Jenni’s writeup
I’m filling in for Erin, who is waiting for her power to come back on. Evan’s having a little Sunday morning fun in advance of the Oscars on Sunday evening. Each theme answer is a movie title made amusing by the addition of one letter.
- 23a [2012 musical film about the sorcerers’ stone?] is ROCK OF MAGES (Rock of Ages).
- 25a [1985 fantasy comedy about author Virginia in her high school days?] is TEEN WOOLF (Teen Wolf). He just wanted a room of his own.
- 33a [1996 romantic comedy about the uniquely talented Mr. Crockett?] would be ONE FINE DAVY (One Fine Day).
- 44a [2000 sci-fi thriller about a world inhabited by clones of former senator Harry?] is REID PLANET (Red Planet). Cloning politicians. Now that’s terrifying.
- 59a [1995 political satire about a guiding light in Ontario?] is CANADIAN BEACON (Canadian Bacon).
- 68a [1976 sci-fi film about a mystical symbol inside Boston’s airport?] is LOGAN’S RUNE (Logan’s Run).
- 74a [2002 superhero film about a tailless cat with eight legs?] is SPIDER MANX. That’s a creepy idea.
- 80a [2006 dark fantasy film about an intricate series of paths and trousers?] is PANTS LABYRINTH (Pan’s Labyrinth). This one made me giggle.
- 96a [1973 dramedy about an origami ignoramus?] is PAPER MORON (Paper Moon).
- 109a [2007 superhero film about a haunting AFC West player?] is 109a. 2007 superhero film about a haunting AFC West player?] is GHOST RAIDER (Ghost Rider).
- 119a [1995 comedy about little lab maze runners?] is SMALL RATS (Mall Rats).
And a revealer at 21a: [People without lines, and what’s spelled out by the letters added to this puzzle’s films] which is MOVIE EXTRAS.
That’s a lot of theme material, and I’m pleased to report that the fill didn’t suffer overmuch. Nice puzzle.
A few other things:
- 3d [Cobbler fruit, at times] is NECTARINE. I’m sure somebody loves nectarine cobbler, but it doesn’t ring a bell with me.
- I could have done without the cross-referencing. We’ve got HOT TAKE at 106a and 4d, defined as [strong opinion offered shortly after a news event]. We’ve also got 6a clued as [Synonym of 37 Across], which are ABHOR and HATE, respectively.
- 16d [Alpha blocker that’s administered to treat an enlarged prostate] is FLOMAX. This was a gimme for me and I suspect for some of the men in my age group and older. It was probably a complete obscurity for most other people
- 42a [Child-ish instruction?] has nothing to do with preschool. The Child in question is the late, great Julia and the answer is SAUTE.
- We’ve got TED LEO and Tea LEONI appearing, which is perfectly fine and probably accidental, but I find it amusing.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there was a movie called Canadian Bacon, and that the UCLA yearbook is called “BruinLife.”
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Fishy Figures”—erik’s write-up
erik here, stepping in for fiend legend pannonica to rate some fish puns. don’t worry, i’m not angling for her job.
- 23a. [Dunker who really made waves?] – SHARKUILLE. the pun is good! but nobody calls him just “shaquille” (or else how would we distinguish him from the suns’ shaquille harrison?) – we would have accepted SHARKUILLE O’NEAL, or THE BIG SHADROE.
- 28a. [“Titanic” actress at sea?] – SKATE (kate) WINSLET. acceptable. (the little triangles in the pictured grid are just there for ornamentation purposes and definitely not because i thought it was kate winslow)
- 34a. [Tanked jazz crooner?] – SMELT (mel) TORME. that’s pushing it.
- 55a. [Owen’s scaly brother?] – FLUKE (luke) WILSON. better.
- 63a. [Pop singer who’s a Pisces?] – EEL (neil) SEDAKA. i chuckled.
- 73a. [Talk-show kin of 63 Across?] – MORAY (maury) POVICH. very strong.
- 93a. [Laker in a fishbowl?] – GOBY (kobe) BRYANT. never heard of this fish.
- 101a. [Whale of an actor?] – BELUGA (bela) LUGOSI. nah, you can’t just insert random syllables like that. to borrow from one of this year’s clue of the year orca nominees… this one sucked.
- 110a. [Aquatic soul act?] – SALMON (sam and) DAVE. saved the best for last.
some great catches, a couple that maybe should have been thrown back to whence they came.
fun non-theme fill: LET IT SNOW, MARRIED LIFE, PUISSANCE… BONGS.
fun clues: [Times-itself-times-itself] = CUBED, [Two-sided deciders] = COINS, [Ivory-tickling Diana] = KRALL, [Color of octopus blood] = BLUE.
STUART gets the clue [Jeb the Reb], which is noteworthy in that a) i’ve never heard of the dude, b) we usually see REB as a grid answer instead of in the clue, and c) this is like the 8th cutesy reference to the confederacy i’ve seen in a puzzle this week.
that’s about all i got. i’ll give this puzzle 3.75/5 sea stars. enjoy the rest of your sunday! maybe go watch “get out” if you haven’t yet, it’s underappreciated. (you thought i was gonna say “the shape of water”, didn’t you?)
John Guzzetta’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Island Hopping”—Amy’s write-up
Gotta be brief, as my mom will be here shortly. (I love that a suburban woman in her 70s is cool with taking the commuter train downtown and hopping the bus up to my place.)
Theme is phrases that contain embedded island names, and the islands “hop” over a black square so that the theme answer does a little zigzag.
- 24a. [Preliminary negotiations], INFORMAL TALKS, with the MALTA portion “hopping.” Fiend blogger Jim P had a family vacation in Malta and I absolutely loved all the photos he shared on Facebook. Another friend of mine was just in Malta last weekend to run a race, and wow, is that place beautiful. When you put an island in the sea just north of Africa, the weather in February will be springy and full of flowers blooming.
- 48a. [Former Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale component], VERBAL IQ with BALI. “Former” takes this one down a notch, though there are probably also non-outdated ways to clue VERBAL IQ (though perhaps less “gettable” for solvers).
- 51a. [Fluorescent bulb element], KRYPTON GAS and TONGA, home of the oiled-up shirtless Olympic flag-bearer.
- 67a. [“On the Good Ship Lollipop” performer], SHIRLEY TEMPLE. LEYTE is in the Visayas, the central chunk of islands in the Philippines. You may know it from the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan a few years ago, in the city of Tacloban.
- 84a. [Lesser clergy member], MINOR CANON and MINORCA. I would never have guessed that a MINOR CANON was a person and not a piece of doctrine.
- 88a. [Confirmed], BORNE OUT, with BORNEO.
- 110a. [Check out a wreck, perhaps], GO SCUBA DIVING, with CUBA. Not sure that GO SCUBA DIVING is great as a crossword entry, but I think I like it.
Like Malta and Tonga, Cuba is a nation unto itself. The other four islands are parts of larger countries, or (in the case of Borneo) split up among different nations.
The theme layout allows for lots of longer fill. “NO OFFENSE,” CAESAR SALAD, “NOT REALLY,” ASSISTANT D.A., HOLY TERRORS, KOOKABURRA, CHEETOS, and EUPHORIA were particularly nice. I’d ding the stacked NOT and NO in the northwest corner, but I like both entries so much, I can’t complain.
One note: 85d. [Timberlake’s former band] clues NSYNC, but they weren’t a band per se. A boy band is a group of vocalists, not a band of musicians playing instruments. It bugs me that girl group sometimes gets used even in reference to an actual band of musicians, not just for vocal groups, but boy band hijacks the word band. Alliteration in the service of sexism!
Didn’t love the shorter fill. 3.75 stars overall from me.