Allen E. Parrish’s New York Times puzzle — Matt’s review
Matt here, filling in for pannonica. Anagrammed word theme today, with 5.5 theme entries:
17-A [Socialite who inspired 1950’s “Call Me Madam”] = PERLE MESTA. Tough opening theme entry for the week.
21-A [Sulu and Uhura, e.g., on the Enterprise] = SHIPMATES.
37-A [Pastrami and salami] are undeniably DELI MEATS.
57-A [Run out of energy] = LOSE STEAM.
63-A [Groups hired for high-profile cases] = LEGAL TEAMS.
And then the revealer is at 30-D: [Breaks … or an anagram of the ends of five Across answers in this puzzle] = TAMES.
This is a below-average example of this theme type, for three reasons:
1) The phrases themselves are uninteresting. DELI MEATS is the best of the lot, so not much to be excited about with the entries per se.
Compare this set, for example, to the theme entries of the NYT of Tuesday, Dec. 31st, which was a similar anagram theme: LIVING LARGE, HORATIO ALGER, ROCKETS RED GLARE, PREMIUM LAGER and CHIVAS REGAL. Much more lively and evocative.
2) Four of the six anagrams end in S (TEAMS, TAMES, MEATS, MATES) so this isn’t far from just being a 4-letters +S set of anagrams. Again, compare to the above-linked NYT, whose five-letter entries are much more well-mixed than today’s.
3) Since there’s no wordplay to the revealer, it would have been better to not include TAMES in the grid at all. It’s just awkward here. So in order of preference: by far the ideal is to use a clever piece of wordplay to reveal the theme; next best is to have no reveal and let the solver figure the idea out for themselves; and the least optimal is to have an awkward reveal like this.
OK, so the theme itself I’m going to put at 2.75 stars. Let’s look at the grid, which shows some spark: ICE CUBE, ZERO SUM, GAS TANK, PHASE IN, NET LOSS, ALGERIA, SNEEZE, PICK AT, and YUPPIE are all things you want in your crossword.
With five theme entries plus a revealer, though, it comes at a price: SSGTS, ILES, SYNS, OPEL, ELEM, single QUALM, and partials ABU, TRA, and SAO.
That’s not a terrible price considering how nice the longer fill is, but a) it’s Monday, so cleanliness over Scrabbliness/theme density, and b) I think about half of the suboptimal fill could’ve been cleaned out of the grid quickly by dropping the unnecessary TAMES reveal. Still, that NE corner is pretty sweet, with lively entries and the amusing MALI/ALGERIA cross-reference.
2.75 theme, 3.75 grid; let’s average that out to 3.25 stars.
Amy Johnson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
This theme reminds me of a Merl Reagle Sunday puzzle from June—Merl hid various key words from the “Three Little Pigs” story inside longer entries. There, you had to tease out the pertinent bits—like extracting WOLF from PAUL WOLFOWITZ. Here, we have a simple Monday puzzle and several key words from the story appear as themselves:
- 18a. [Unlucky thing to draw], SHORT STRAW. The first little pig built a house of straw. What was he thinking?
- 20a. [Poverty-stricken], DIRT-POOR. I think this is a theme entry because it’s opposite PIG LATIN, but I’m not sure which word ties into the story. The pigs’ mama was poor so she sent them off to make their way in the world?
- 26a. [Tabletop game requiring steady hands], PICK-UP STICKS. Second pig built a flimsy house of sticks.
- 47a. [Go on strike, in slang], HIT THE BRICKS. Third pig made a much sturdier house with masonry. Did not know this sense of “hit the bricks”; it’s the third meaning listed here and I do know the first two.
- 56a. [“Language” that gave us “amscray”], PIG LATIN. Wait. Maybe this isn’t a theme entry? It’s not mentioned in the 60a clue. But it’s PIG! How can it not be related? Even though the PIG comes first in its phrase rather than at the end, as in the three homebuilding-materials phrases. If it’s not part of the theme, the grid really should have been reworked to de-PIG it.
- 60a. [Menace who destroyed houses made of the ends of 18-, 26- and 47-Across], BIG BAD WOLF.
Cute theme, and super-familiar stories of childhood are good fodder for Monday puzzles.
Six more things:
- 1a. [Junk email], SPAM. Could also be clued as [Canned pork product that may be made from three little pigs].
- 16a. [Author __ Stanley Gardner], ERLE. Oof, on a Monday?
- 55a. [“I’ll do whatever you need”], USE ME. Now, “Use Me” is an old ’70s song from the great Bill Withers, not that I recall the song from back then. I’d prefer the song clue to the weird one here (similar to so many in other puzzles). Have you ever once offered help by saying “Use me”? I have not.
- 43d. [Shuffling gait], SHAMBLE. Great word, along with in a shambles and shambolic.
- 7d. [Tie up in the harbor], MOOR. Not cross-referenced to IAGO and EMILIA, as two Othello answers in one puzzle are enough.
- 10d. [“Amscray!”], GET LOST. Nice tie to the PIG LATIN clue!
3.5 stars from me.
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”
Guten Morgen! Standard BEQ Monday difficulty level today. Brendan’s pretty consistent in his themelesses here.
- 8a. [“Nourishing the body whole” food company], ODWALLA. Do they do more than juices? And is this slogan used only in print? Because out loud, it sounds like “nourishing the body hole.”
- 19a. [It’s an offer you can refuse], NIGERIAN SCAM. My latest Facebook friend request is from a Nigerian fellow, and he doesn’t seem to be friends with my existing Nigerian Facebook friend, a crossworder. Random scam?
- 42a. [Powder used after skiing], COCOA MIX. Can’t say I call it that, personally. But now I’m thinking of chocolate.
- 51a. [Former coach on “NFL on Fox”], JIMMY JOHNSON.
- 57a. [Its capital is Willemstad], CURACAO. We would also have accepted [What makes a blue margarita blue, often].
- 20d. [John Zorn’s avant jazz outfit named after an early ABC police drama series], NAKED CITY.
- 35d. [“Where the stone age meets the rock age” movie], ENCINO MAN. I recently caught the beginning of that movie. I think that was plenty.
Clue/answer word duplication: 55d. [“Next ___ on me”], ONE’S and 26d. “Can’t you see the line here?”], I’M NEXT.
Most awkward entry: 18a. [Systems for moving liquids], TUBINGS. Tubing is a mass noun and the plural just looks wrong.
Common nouns with rock clues: 6d. [Art punk band whose members appear as tophat-wearing giant eyeballs, with “The”], RESIDENTS, and 11d. [Pink Floyd album based loosely on a book by George Orwell], ANIMALS.
Slowed myself down in the ODWALLA section with two wrong answers for 13d and 14d, both clued [Pants part]. Had HEM and ESS instead of LEG and ASS. ASS is better fill than ESS, so I’m glad of that.
3.85 stars from me.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Labor Leaders”—Ade’s write-up
Good morning everyone, and welcome to September!
For everyone out there reading this, whether you are or aren’t working on this Labor Day, I just want to express my appreciation to everyone that puts in an honest day’s work on a daily basis, no matter what occupation. I express the same gratitude to those that are self-employed as well as those who might find themselves unemployed yet were once part of the work force and providing for themselves and for their families. So on this Labor Day, we have a crossword from Mr. Randall J. Hartman in which each of the theme answers are multiple-word entries in which the first word are also words that can follow the word “labor.”
- FORCE FIELD: ([17A: Energy shield])
- PROTEST VOTE: ([31A: None of the above, perhaps])
- PARTY ANIMAL: ([48A: One who might put a lampshade on his head]) – I’m far from a party animal, but I have done that a couple of times before, just for curiosity’s sake.
- STRIKE GOLD: ([65A: Get rich quick])
First thing that this BIG OX (55D: [Lummox]) noticed – and loved – is the long fill of PEJORATIVE (30D: [Belittling]). I’m more than OK with having ANCHOVIES in a crossword, but definitely not OK with them on any pizza of mine (10D: [Bagna càuda ingredient]). There were a good number of sports-related clues in this puzzle, which always is fine by me, and that tone started at the very beginning with RAMS (1A: [Edward Jones Dome players]) and RAFA (1D: [Tennis player Nadal’s nickname]). Have been at the U.S. Open a couple of times during the tournament and it’s a shame that Rafa had to miss it due to injury. To close, I couldn’t help but notice the intersection involving the 49th and 50th states, with ALASKA (49D: [Prudhoe Bay location]) crossing KAUAI (69A: [One of the Hawaiian islands]). Has anyone been to both Alaska and Hawai’i in their lifetime? I’m still looking to go to one of those states first.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: CUJO (39D: [Stephen King novel]) – Nicknamed Cujo because of the first two letters of his first and last name, recently retired NHL goaltender Curtis Joseph has the distinction of being the winningest goaltender in NHL history to never have been part of a Stanley Cup winning team. Playing for six NHL teams between 1989 and 2009, Joseph won 454 regular-season games. He also was known for the art on his goalie mask, as it depicted a growling St. Bernard akin to the dog on the cover of Stephen King’s book, as well as the dog in the movie adaptation of Cujo.
Have a great holiday everyone, and I’ll see you tomorrow!