Ellen Leuschner and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Split Ends”
This is the second bending theme this week (the other is the Fireball) but each theme answer is two-pronged, with everything that precedes “or” in a familiar phrase appearing in an Across answer space and a later portion twigging downward from the end of the first one or two words that should appear twice in the phrase. That sentence is crystal-clear, right? Examples will make far more sense:
- 1a. [“Everyone who’s anyone is attending!”], BE THERE or BE SQUARE. BE THERE in 1a, SQUARE running down from the E in B.
- 8a. [Shoot for the moon], GO BIG or GO HOME. HOME dangling from the O in GO.
- 13a. [Much-anthologized Frank R. Stockton short story], THE LADY or THE TIGER.
- 54a. [Proverbial matter of perspective], HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY.
- 60a. [Question asked in classic 1970s ads], IS IT LIVE or IS IT MEMOREX?
- 79a. [Stickup line], YOUR MONEY or YOUR LIFE.
- 115a. [Song by the Clash on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list], SHOULD I STAY or SHOULD I GO.
The left/right symmetry accommodates the theme, which isn’t strictly symmetrical as the trailing ends don’t reflect symmetry. The theme set is terrific—the 13a short story was the least familiar one to me, but I certainly know of it, while the others are super-familiar to me and have a goodly amount of sparkle to them.
With the criss-crossing theme answers, the surrounding fill and the various stacked sections with 7- to 9-letter answers make for a grid that’s not so easy to fill. You get some ERNE and RIT and ENGR and ESS and, heaven forbid, 76d. [Prefix with -form]/AERI-. But I’ve seen a larger number of groaners in smaller puzzles or less ambitious 21×21’s. Those bits were more than offset, I thought, by the likes of THURBER and the NANNY GOAT, U.S. NAVY, DEADEYES and LOG CABINS, YO LA TENGO and MOBSTERS, and a general air of solidity.
I don’t mark myself down for typos that are strictly careless typos as opposed to incorrect letters that I put in intentionally. Had two adjacent-key typos in this puzzle, as you can see (the green check marks). I did fail to recheck the crossings when my TAXICAN (obviously wrong!) formed MONSTERS for 90d. [Family members]. I thought maybe Ellen or Jeff has some relatives who are horrendous to see at Thanksgiving—but of course it’s a TAXICAB and MOBSTERS in la famiglia.
4.25 stars from me.
Amy Johnson’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Hail to the Chief”—Andy’s review
In honor of Presidents’ Day weekend, Amy Johnson has reimagined some phrases as “Presidential”:
- 24a, MADISON AVENUE [Presidential thoroughfare?]. Here’s the thing about some of these entries, including this one: Madison Avenue is named after Madison Square, which in turn is named after… James Madison. The President. So it’s not really a [Presidential thoroughfare?] so much as it is a [Presidential thoroughfare]. I don’t know if you can do this theme in a 21×21 size without having a couple of these “things-named-after-an-Actual-President” entries.
- 39a, LINCOLN LOGS [Presidential records?]. “Logs,” unlike “avenue,” has an alternate meaning that the clue exploits here. But again, while no one seems to be sure what Lincoln Logs are named for, one of the major theories is that they’re named for Actual President Abraham Lincoln (who famously lived in a log cabin).
- 54a, BUSH LEAGUE [Presidential teams?]. For a while, the Bush League was the AL West.
- 71a, FORD BRONCO [Presidential horse?]. It’s the horse you get when the Nixon Bronco resigns.
- 83a, JACKSON FIVE [Presidential quintet?]. It feels like “vowels” should be the answer to [Presidential quintet?].
- 102a, GRANT IMMUNITY [Presidential resistance?]. Only theme entry where the President comes in verb form. Not sure “grant immunity” is as phrase-y as the other theme entries, but as far as verb phrases in isolation go, it’s pretty solid.
- 3d, WASHINGTON POST [Presidential tweet?]. Washington Post –> Washington, D.C. –> George Washington. There’s not many Washington things that aren’t, at some degree of remove, named for Actual President George Washington.
- 50d, GARFIELD COMICS [Presidential stand-ups?]. I like this one, though it’s hard to imagine what “Garfield comics” would mean if they were “Presidential stand-ups.” Like, do they work for James Garfield? Are they clones of James Garfield? Do they only tell jokes about James Garfield? Also, if we’re playing the “Is this named for an Actual President?” game, Garfield was named for Jim Davis’s dad, who was named for… Actual President James A. Garfield. This one feels removed enough.
So, I didn’t love some of these theme answers, but they were all easy to puzzle out. The fill seems pretty good overall. I thought DOTEDU was interesting–we see DOTCOM a fair amount because it’s become a generic synonym for the Web w/r/t business, but I don’t know if DOTEDU, DOTGOV, etc. float my boat. I also really dislike seeing the suffixes ULE and ULA. I’m fine with most suffixes, but for some reason these really get my goat. Maybe it’s their relative rarity? I don’t even know if that’s true. Robert EMMET was new to me, but apparently he’s been in crosswords for ages. And then there was EPODES on top of MENE, which is sometimes unavoidable but still not my favorite.
Okay, the good stuff. There was EGO IDEAL, which was totally new to me and which I really love. We had AUNTIE EM, SRI LANKA, JEAN ARP. [Bigger fish to fry?] was a nice clue for KEEPERS. Large swaths of the fills were nicely done.
I’m giving this one 3.1 stars. Until next week!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Funny Business”
You know how every city has at least one hair salon with a punny “Shear ___” name? Like Shear Bliss or Shear Genius (but somehow never Shear Terror)? Merl gathers up a bunch of punny names for retail shops. Merl notes, “I found these on the Internet, and I’ve seen a couple of them in real life, so I’m assuming that most of them exist or did exist at one time.”
- 23a. [Furniture store’s name?], SOFA SO GOOD. So far, so good.
- 25a. [Fromage shop’s name?], C’EST CHEESE. “Say cheese.”
- 33a. [Antique store’s name?], JUNK AND DISORDERLY. Drunk and ….
- 49a. [Coffee shop’s name?], BREWED AWAKENING. Rude …. I like that!
- 60a. [Ambulatory equipment store’s name?], CANE AND ABLE. Cain and Abel.
- 66a. [Bouquet shop’s name?], FLORIST GUMP. Forrest Gump. That is a dreadful name for a flower shop. There’s nothing pretty about “Gump.”
- 80a. [Swimwear shop’s name?], BEACH YOURSELF UP. Beat yourself up. This pun was the hardest one for me to decipher.
- 92a. [Vintage record store’s name?], VINYL RESTING PLACE. Final …. Nice one!
- 105a. [Tailor shop’s name?], SEW IT SEAMS. So it seems.
- 108a. [Maternity shop’s name?], WOMB TO GROW. Room ….
Mostly entertaining, goofy set of puns.
- 8d. [Tiff’s opposite … in the extreme], GLOBAL WAR. What? I thought the opposite of a tiff would be fond affection between two people getting along well. I was looking for a hug here and got a cataclysm of world violence.
- 77d. [“One” has one], HOMOPHONE. It’s “won.”
- 20a. [Cape Canaveral’s loc.]. E. FLA. Yuck. A strange-looking abbreviation that Googles terribly. You could get rid of that by adding a cheater square (making the opposite BARBET into BARBS, changing 84d BARBS into CARBS) and having SGT and crosswordese name ATLI crossing AGENT, STORK, and prescription abbreviation TID (three times a day). Nobody wants to see ATLI crossing TID, though.
- 89d. [___ puzzle], JIGSAW. I bought my first Springbok jigsaw puzzle in probably 25+ years today. Lots of fruit! And corn, for some reason.
- 104a. [Fried Southern side], OKRA. I had one bite of that a few weeks ago, for my first time. Hey! It just tastes like battered and fried something. Nothing overtly mucilaginous about it in that form.
3.8 stars from me. Fun theme, with the puns harder to piece together than I would have expected.
Todd McClary’s Washington Post crossword, “The Post Puzzler No. 254”–Sam Donaldson’s review
The ACPT is nearly here (just 39 days!) so I better start getting into solving shape. Not that it will make any difference, mind you. My best finish ever was a mere 207th in 2013, and last year I fell to 270-something. The drop was almost certainly because I made more mistakes than usual on the puzzles, but I choose instead to believe it’s because I didn’t practice very much for the tournament. So I’m seeing what I can do to get prepared by solving more on paper as the date approaches. Hence the screenshot of the completed grid to the right.
Normally the other part of training for the ACPT involves a stopwatch. But I’m trying a new approach this year: forget the clock. It’s all about “staying clean,” id. est., making no mistakes. By my haphazard estimates, if last year I made no mistakes and took five minutes longer per puzzle I would have scored a personal best. That’s right–accuracy counts that much. So I’m buying into the Tortoise School of Solving. I may regret it in 41 days, but for now I’m committed to the plan.
As a result, I can’t tell you how long it took me to solve this week’s Post Puzzler, a 66/28 Ode to “We are Number One!” from Todd McClary (note the four “number one” finger signs made by the black squares). I can you that I solved the puzzle at my youngest son’s basketball practice; when I started they were still doing layup drills, and when I finished they were starting a scrimmage. So maybe it was ten minutes? Sure, we’ll go with that. Most importantly, I hope, I solved the puzzle “clean” (with no mistakes).
This one felt a little easy by Post Puzzler standards. I got lucky with Proctor SILEX, [Performer at Princess Diana’s funeral] SIR ELTON JOHN, STEARNS Foster, and the [Seth MacFarlane comedy] TED. Having all of those in the center really helped me conquer that intricate lattice of 12s and 13s running through the center.
For every ridiculously easy clue like [Mariachi instrument] for GUITAR, there was a trap like [Cheese that’s grated on pasta] and starts with P (boy did I hold onto PARMESAN for a long time!) for PECORINO, or a complete unknown like XEBEC, a [Mediterranean three-master] that just looks like two or more errors when it sits in a grid.
- TACO NITE is one of my favorite meals in the dinner rotation, though here it’s clued as an [Iron Range mineral]. Tacos–is there anything they can’t do?
- When you’re not speed solving, you notice things like this: NO MORE, the [Breaking point cry], anagrams to Marilyn MONROE, the [Subject of a Warhol diptych]. You then spend a few seconds looking over the grid to see if there are any more. Is there a famous dude named RON MOE? Or am I just a MOE RON?
- E-DATE, the [Internet connection?], is more than a tad forced, right?
- When Star Trek writers have a mental block, they just sing Let’s do the time warp again. Hence the answer to [“Star Trek” anomaly], TIME WARP.
- Some contenders for favorite entry and clue included WINS BIG, [Brightness indicator] for I.Q. TEST, [Catches] for IGNITES, and SPACE TOURISTS, the [Ones who pay millions for weight loss?].
Favorite entry = PILOT EPISODE, clued as [First of a series]. And speaking of pilots, we are two episodes into Better Call Saul and so far I really like what I see. Favorite clue = [Prepared to leave?] for TESTATE (i.e., one who has executed a will).
Bruce Venzke’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everyone! How’s your Sunday full of crossword-solving going?!
Today’s Challenge of Mr. Bruce Venzke turned out to be the fastest I’ve completed a Sunday Challenge so far. I think I’ve gone the furthest stretch of days without watching a James Bond movie in full in a long time, so seeing LENYA should make me get out a few of my James Bond movies on DVD and watch them soon (26A: [Lotte of “From Russia With Love”]). That was the second answer I filled in, and, soon after ‘Lenya,’ I also got TARBELL immediately (16A: [Muckraker Ida]). But even with those answers filled in, I didn’t build from the Northwest after that, as I went to the Southwest and first filled in ELITISM in that area (36D: [Snob’s doctrine]). I hope that’s not a sign getting that entry as quick as I did, as I definitely don’t want to come across as a snob expert! It was fun to fill in the long answers in the grid, as there were some real live ones. My personal favorite was SENIOR MOMENTS, something I’ve been showing in abundance lately (35A: [Certain spells of forgetfulness]). That entry intersected the two other 13-letter entries in the grid, SLOT CAR RACING (14D: [Competitive hobby using small-scale auto models]) and STALLS FOR TIME (15A: [Delays taking action as long as possible]). Didn’t have an earworm moment today, but had a flashback to watching Splash many times when I was a kid, starring Daryl Hannah as a MERMAID (54A: [“Splash” figure]). Since it’s Presidents’ Day tomorrow, maybe I should honor the holiday by wearing a TRICORN like some of the first few American presidents did (52A: [Hat with an upturned brim]). How about it?!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: LETHAL (1D: [“______ Weapon” (Mel Gibson film)])– One year after the second installment of the movie franchise starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team reached the 1990 Men’s Final Four featuring a troika of high-scoring players who collectively were nicknamed “LETHAL Weapon 3.” The three players, Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver, letdthe Yellow Jackets to Denver and the Final Four before they lost to eventual national champion UNLV in the national semifinals.
Have a good rest of your Sunday, and thank you very much for your time!
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Where’s It From?” — pannonica’s write-up
20-across seems to be an oblique reference to the theme. CRAMBO is a [Rhyming game], though strictly speaking it isn’t precisely what the theme is about: paired rhyming words including a demonym. I’d never heard of CRAMBO, but Wikipedia provides a brief article about it. It’s possible that the conventions are broad enough to encompass this permutation. Left to my own devices I’d deem it a refined version of “Stinky Pinky” or “Rhyme Time”.
- 22a. [Expedition in Doha?] QATARI SAFARI. See also 41a [1931 Garbo role] MATA HARI and 71a [Where cheetahs prosper] KALAHARI.
- 104a. [Big cat in Kauai?] HAWAIIAN LION.
- 6d. [Ball in Rio?] BRAZILIAN COTILLION.
- 19d. [Good guy in Grenoble?] FRENCH MENSCH.
- 28a. [Memphis fit?] EGYPTIAN CONNIPTION.
- 55d. [Frankfurt fur-bearer?] GERMAN ERMINE.
Only six theme answers in this large size 21×21, but they’re all very fun and entertaining. Interesting that the arrangement is two relatively short acrosses and four longer downs.
With all that theme-free elbow room, it’s kind of surprising to find some obscurities (e.g., 11a AMAPOLA, 23d INA RAY Hutton) and (93d) CLONKy partials (like 47a AN ARMY, 42d A NOSE, 46 AN EAR, 2d A LAST).
Not part of the theme: 77a [Romanian’s ancestor, maybe] MOLDAVIAN. Would have been nicer to have eliminated this from the grid.
- A-go-go! ABROAD, ALOOF, AFIRE. Hm. Seemed as if there were more, but I can’t really include the likes of ATONE. (5a, 18a, 92d, 75a)
- Favorite clues: 53d [An island?] NO MAN – how Sphinx-like and/or Odyssean! 64d [Running mates?] ELOPE, which is a consistently rich source of punny clues.
- 102a [Motion approval] I SECOND. This one seems a bit unfair. Would have been better to include a qualifier indicating that it’s spoken. Nevertheless, the clue is technically sound and defensible.
- Clues for which I would have preferred more contemporary references: 88d [Dead Sea fortress] MASADA; 91a [Howell’s “The Rise of Silas __”] LAPHAM.
- ARANTXA always looks weird and exotic in-grid. 13d [Sanchez-Vicario of tennis].
Very good crossword.