Kevan Choset’s New York Times crossword
There’s a hidden EARTH spanning the middle of some phrases:
- 17a. [Overcome an unpleasant misunderstanding], CLEAR THE AIR.
- 24a. [Left-brain activity], LINEAR THINKING.
- 38a. [2004 film featuring Dustin Hoffman], I HEART HUCKABEES.
- 49a. [Reason to see a rheumatologist], ACUTE ARTHRITIS. Markedly less fun than the other theme answers.
- 59a. [“The Lord of the Rings” setting … or a feature of 17-, 24-, 38- and 49-Across?], MIDDLE EARTH.
Two EAR/TH splits, one EART/H split, and one E/ARTH split. It would be nice to have four different splits, but there are no words starting with RTH.
The long Downs PEANUT OIL and DOOHICKEY are great, but I might’ve liked this puzzle better with one fewer theme entry. Because TWO-A, 39d. [ Old draft category for civilian workers]? That’s not fun. DLI, ETHNO, -OID, SO TO, O’SHEA, SAO, ANI, YSL, OTERI, ARR, ENTR, SHA, -INI, ASTI, ESA, and IN REM? Also not so interesting, if you ask me. Can’t help thinking that cutting the theme down to four long answers would’ve helped KEVan make the grid really shine.
Did not know: 32d. [Allies of the Trojans in the “Iliad”], THRACIANS. I don’t think I read the Iliad. Odyssey, yes.
I did like HALAL, CORONA, and the Anderson Cooper two-fer (he’s an ANCHOR on CNN). Overall, I’d place this one at 3.33 stars.
(Edited to add: Matt Gaffney recalled a 2009 LA Times puzzle by Todd McClary with the same theme, but with a little less theme content and great fill. Tune in to Gaffney on Crosswords Tuesday for more on this subject from Matt.)
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “You’ve Got to Stand for Something”
Matt imagines that assorted famous people who use their initials are using the most common abbreviation associated with those letters:
- 20a. [Baseball-loving sci-fi artist?], HOME RUN GIGER. Don’t really know who H.R. Giger is.
- 28a. [Directionally proficient author?], SOUTHEAST HINTON. I read all of S.E. Hinton’s novels that had been published by the time I was a young teen; she’s written more books since then.
- 48a. [Basketball player who’s popular at breakfast?] ORANGE JUICE MAYO. That sounds like there will be oily curdling.
- 54a. [Singer/songwriter known for nightwear?], PAJAMA HARVEY. I was going to quibble that PJs wants to remain plural, but if we can have “pajama pants,” I think we can also have “PJ pants.”
- 17a. [1969 Elvis Presley cowboy film], CHARRO. Never heard of it.
- 26d. [Jean-Paul Marat’s slayer Charlotte ___], CORDAY. I think the clue would have been easier for me without the “Charlotte.” Did I think Corday was a man? [Elizabeth ___ (“ER” character with a British accent)] would have been even easier.
- 45d. [Muscle relaxant brand], ICYHOT. Hey! That’s more of a topical analgesic than a muscle relaxant. As Wikipedia puts it, “The term ‘muscle relaxant’ is used to refer to two major therapeutic groups: neuromuscular blockers and spasmolytics.” Topical balms not included. So this one was challenging because the answer wasn’t in the realm of what I considered possible for the clue.
Fave fill: SAVION Glover, O. HENRY, HEIGH-HO, ICYHOT.
Gail Grabowski’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Simple “these things end with synonyms” theme:
- 17a. [It’s heedless to go off it], THE DEEP END.
- 28a. [Car-waxing result], LUSTROUS FINISH. Not quite in the language, eh?
- 47a. [Motion on a mound], PITCHER’S WIND-UP.
- 63a. [Director’s cry, and hint to the ends of 17-, 28- and 47-Across], THAT’S A WRAP.
My usual way of starting an easier puzzle is to look at 1-Across and if I know the answer, I move on to working the crossing Down answers now that I know their first letters. Imagine my disappointment when my unwritten LENO hooked up to the first two answers I filled in: LSTS and EL-HI. Blech. Not an exciting way to start the puzzle. Other words I see far, far more in crosswords than anywhere else include EDER, ET TU, CANER, and OPES.
On the plus side, I love-love–love YOWZAH, and I like BAD THROW, NITWIT, and SHIATSU.
And check out this two-fer: 21a. [Ancient Mexican], AZTEC, next to 23a. [HIV-treating drug], AZT. How many other words start with AZT, I ask you? I think I’d heard that some crossword editors deem AZT to be off-limits owing to direness, but perhaps with the longer survivals in people with HIV infection, this is changing. Look at Magic Johnson, diagnosed 22 years ago and still a go-getter.
3.25 stars from me.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Caged Animal” – Dave Sullivan’s review
After I found the “caged” GNU in the first across theme entry, I assumed I’d be looking for other animals in the remaining theme entries, but we have a GNU in each case:
- [“Dirty Harry” sequel] was MAGNUM FORCE – this is Clint Eastwood, right? I’m thinking that’s where the “Make my day” quote comes from, but not absolutely sure of that one.
- [Dialer’s slip] clued something we have all reached at one time or another, a WRONG NUMBER – might’ve been nice to clue this as [Likely butt-dialing result], but that’s just me.
- [Join, as a club] was SIGN UP FOR
- And a show I remember quite well from my childhood, [Sally Field sitcom role] was FLYING NUN – I believe the clue should have added a “With ‘the'” in there.
- And I almost missed, [Wheel fasteners] or LUGNUTS – those short middle entries are always hard for me to catch as theme entries.
I think it’s fine that in each case the same animal was “caged,” however I do wish the revealer at 50-Down ([African antelope “caged” in five answers in this puzzle]) had been omitted. Sure, it requires a bit more from the solver to see what’s going on, and may lead to some letters to Bob, but I think solvers should be expected to find this on their own. Anyway, when I see GNU, I think of the GNU operating system, which comes from the “recursive acronym” GNU’s Not Unix! As far as the fill goes, the crossing of ELBERT and ERWIN was inferable, but a bit tough as two proper names. I enjoyed the clue for [SMOTE], which was the alliterative [Bonked, Biblically], though I was a bit surprised to see “biblically” capitalized. I would think that would only happen if it was referred to as “The Bible,” but I presume these CS folks know more about that than I do. (To “know someone in the biblical sense” would not be capitalized, I don’t think.) PINKOS ([Leftists, to Archie Bunker]) is certainly a pejorative, and comes from a lighter shade of the red associated with communists. (I had to check if the C in communists was capitalized, by the way!)
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle, “My Space”—Janie’s review
As I think I’ve said before, if I’m not one of the world’s greatest or fastest solvers, I’m a reasonably experienced one. With “early week” puzzles, like those Liz creates for Crossword Nation, I can usually suss out a theme either by filling in one or two of the theme answers and/or factoring in the hint provided by the title. Today was no exception. Saw the title, filled in MIDDLE YEARS and MINI YOYO and decided (correctly) that each of the themers would be two-word phrases, and that the first space of the first part would start with “M” and the first space of the second with “Y.” Literally the M-Y Space of the title. Ho-hum.
But then, but then, the model for this theme-style was turned on its proverbial ear by way of that breath-taking grid-spanner at center: the mellifluously named MALALA YOUSAFZAI. This is gorgeous fill on so many levels. Let me count some of the ways: we don’t see this particular combination of letters (which also include a “z”) a whole lot here in the western world; as mentioned, it’s 15 letters long; Ms. Yousafzai is a teenager! from Pakistan! promoting education for girls in a country that has historically considered this anything but a necessity or even appropriate! she was a nominee this year for the Nobel Peace Prize! The potential in and accomplishments of this extraordinary “sweet 16” (already the victim of a near-fatal assassination attempt for her activism) leave me in her awe. And being reminded of her (I was aware of that harrowing attempt on her young life), having my attention drawn to her through this particular puzzle, completely changed my take on it. It now had my full attention. And respect.
Particularly since I then went on to enjoy the vividness of the final two theme-fills—“MARRY ME” (I just attended an especially beautiful family wedding this past weekend) and MANGO YOGURT (yum)—I came to appreciate the way this theme was developed. And the balance in the theme fill. I don’t hate MIDDLE YEARS, but I s’pose it feels a tad on the nose; and fine as the fill is, I’d never heard of those MINI YOYOs. But learning about them (cute as they are) didn’t give me quite the wake up call that MALALA YOUSAFZAI did. Again: wow.
And there are more delights in the grid as well. Lookin’ at you SPACE PROBE and JELLO MOLDS (with its timely clue [Brain-shaped Halloween dessert shapers]). Also lookin’ at some sharp cluing by way of [Carpenter with an angelic voice] for (Carpenter-as-a-name-and-not-an-occupation) KAREN and [Jimmy with a crowbar] for (jimmy-as-a-verb-and-not-a-name) PRY. Finally, hats off to those “question mark” clues, which never fail to confound and please: the non-Lincoln [Town car?] for CAB; and the non-Kodak [Film company?] for CAST (i.e., the company of actors in a film).
GEE, I ended up liking this puzzle a lot and hope you did, too. The take-away? Even a
tired- tried-and-true puzzle theme will come alive with genuinely fresh, evocative fill!