Jacob Stulberg’s New York Times crossword, “Literary Circles”
I’m quite fond of a couple WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS poems. The plums that bastard stole from your fridge (this one’s borne out in real life when my son finishes the cherries in the fridge that I was looking forward to eating), and the surprise ending of “so much depends upon / a red wheel barrow / glazed with rain water / beside the white chickens” (not a white fence, a white barn, a white house, a white truck? It’s chickens?). I had not ever read THE LOCUST TREE IN FLOWER, which has two versions. The first version has a good bit more words; the second, pithier version is exactly what appears in the circled squares, read from top to bottom: “Among of green stiff old bright broken branch come white sweet May again.” What?? “Among of” violates standard grammar, does it not?
Having been unfamiliar with the poem, this puzzle played like a perplexingly unthemed 21x puzzle with a mini-theme at 3d and 15d.
- 41a. [Walk with swaying hips], ROLLING GAIT. The clue read like a verb phrase rather than an awkward noun.
- 51a. [Prominent parts], SALIENCES. I never knew you could pluralize that.
- 85a. [She’s courted in “The Courtship of Miles Standish”], PRISCILLA. Did not know that.
- 97a. [1990 Mike Leigh comedy/drama], LIFE IS SWEET. I think I saw it but don’t remember it well. Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (1996) was so excellent.
- 102a. [“E.T.” boy and others], ELLIOTTS. Minus .1 for a plural first name occupying so much space. See also: 9d. [Common pizzeria name], ANGELO’S. Not a plural, but rather arbitrary.
- 1d. [Dutch pot contents], TULIP. I assumed the answer would be some particular cannabinoid.
- 13d. [Ahab, e.g.], PEGLEG. I had the LE in place and confidently filled in WHALER.
- 32d. [Internet troll, intentionally], ANGERER. This entry is a me angerer.
- 68d. [Ones whose work is decreasing?], IRONERS. Another roll-your-own sort of word. Maybe the dry cleaning world actually hires people specifically as IRONERS? I don’t know.
- 78d. [Comic impressionist David], FRYE. Never heard of him. Apparently he did a mean LBJ back in the day.
Until I Googled the poem after solving, I really didn’t see what the theme’s point was, and it wasn’t a particularly entertaining solve. If you know the poem’s second version, I imagine that was a nice aid to solving, as you filled in familiar bits of the poem while moving down the grid. If you are lacking that particular bit of cultural literacy, then you might have been in the same boat as me, bailing out letters as the puzzle sank.
3.25 stars from me.
Melanie Miller’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “L-iminated”—Andy’s review
Another of these themes with practically infinite possibilities. Common phrase – L = uncommon phrase. Hilarity ensues:
- 23a, THE POT THICKENS [Comment after a big raise?]. The plot thickens.
- 42a, FROSTED FAKES [Faux furs left out in the cold?]. Frosted flakes.
- 60a, MILE HIGH CUB [Chicago athlete in Denver?]. Mile high club.
- 84a, BARNEY STONE [Gem named for a dinosaur?]. Blarney Stone.
- 99a, BEACHED BLOND [Fair-haired castaway?]. Bleached blond.
- 120a, YOUR PACE OR MINE [Running buddy’s question? ] Your place or mine?
- 33d, PEA BARGAIN [Green Giant deal?]. Confluent. This one was my least favorite.
- 56d, POWER PANTS [Slacks for the boardroom?] Power plants.
All the theme entries were fine, just fine. UNHAT stands out to me as the worst of the surrounding fill, but mostly the rest of the fill is good stuff like PUP TENTS, PARTY DIP, DHARMA, SNO-CAT, etc. Not terribly exciting, but a solid Sunday puzzle.
3.5 stars. Until next time!
Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Back It Up”–Sam Donaldson’s review
The note accompanying this week’s puzzle reads as follows: “May is the only month that spells another word backward. Hence, this puzzle.” That’s a pretty big hint to the theme: one word in each of twelve (twelve! When will I stop being impressed with the theme density in Merl’s puzzles?) common phrases is reversed to form twelve new, wacky phrases that are clued accordingly. Like such:
- “Dora the Explorer” becomes A-ROD THE EXPLORER, clued as [Ballplayer with an adventure series on Nickelodeon?]. This was the first theme entry to fall, so I figured all of the reversed words would come up front.
- Well, kinda. “Cranberry” turns into NARC-BERRY, the [Favorite yogurt flavor of undercover cops?]. This one’s a bit different because “cranberry” is a single word, not two, so here we are reversing just the front part of the word. So I suppose the theme is reversing the first few letters, regardless of whether those letters are themselves a separate word.
- Next up is BOTH SIDES WON, clued as [Reason for a double celebration?]. Only now do I see that there was a Judy Collins song called “Both Sides Now.” Feel free to play it as you read the rest of the post.
More importantly, note that the reversed word here comes at the end instead of the beginning. So now it seems the reversed word can come anywhere. Stay alert, people!
- “Tablespoons” become TABLE-SNOOPS, or [Restaurant eavesdroppers?]. So now we’ve hit for the cycle: we’ve seen reversed word up front, reversed letter sequence up front, reversed word in back, and now reversed letter sequence in back. Wow, all four variations in just the first four theme entries.
- “Acrophobia,” the fear of heights, turns into ORCA-PHOBIA, a [Fear of whales?] or crossword awards.
- One who dies “goes to one’s reward” (so the internet says, anyway). That’s repurposed here into GOES TO ONE’S DRAWER, clued as [Seeks out socks or silverware?]. I like the alliteration in the clue.
- “And justice for all” morphs into DNA JUSTICE FOR ALL, or [What forensic science offers?]. Probably my favorite theme entry of the bunch.
- Why take a phaser and “set for stun” when you can SET FOR NUTS, the [Phaser command heard on “Squirrel Trek”?]? That’s a-corn-y pun.
- The “meatball sub” becomes a MEATBALL BUS, an [Italian food truck?].
- [What latecomers to the Winfrey River Cruise might find?] is NO OPRAH BOATS, the result of reversing the first word in “harpoon boats.” So now we reverse not one, but two words. It’s called taking liberties for comedic effect.
- “Red states” here become DER STATES, or [America, to a German?].
- Finally, “Paul Newman is Hud” changes to PAUL NEWMAN IS DUH, clued as [Words on a 1963 movie poster – as if I need to tell you?]. I think we’re supposed to parse this as “The words on the movie poster are ‘Paul Newman is,’ which you can plainly see for yourself.” Hem. Er, I mean, “meh.”
With all the theme entries, the abundance of three-letter answers and black squares probably cannot be avoided. But all the shorter entries can make the solving experience feel a bit more like a grind. There’s not much in the way of non-thematic fill to call out.
So let’s get to this week’s countdown of the trickiest entries in the puzzle:
- 5. I did not know that ROBERT I was [Richard III’s successor], but the crossings made him easy to suss out.
- 4. And no, I didn’t know that [“La donne e mobile” is in] B-MAJ(or). Here the crossings were also helpful, but the answer is pretty isolated in the northwest corner, so if you struggled with any of the crossings this one would have been harder to get.
- 3. So there’s a TEXAS DIP that a DEB takes, and it’s a [Curtsy in which one’s head nearly touches the floor]. I would have thought it’s a big sandwich.
- 2. I’ve seen a similar clue for this before, but others may have been stumped by [Director of Vivien and Marlon] for ELIA Kazan. Remember this tip: four letters? director? first name? It’s ELIA.
- 1. I’m not sure I ever knew that an ORRERY is a [Model of the solar system]. And I’m banking a few other solvers will feel the same way.
Favorite entry = OH RIGHT, clued as [“Thanks for reminding me!”]. Favorite clue = [What “colonel” has?] for NO R. Why parse an answer as one word when you can make it into two words?
Doug Peterson’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing women out there! Definitely sending hugs and kisses to all who care and love and sacrifice so much in taking care of the ones you love. There’s also a lot to love about today’s Sunday Challenge, brought to us once again by Mr. Doug Peterson. Couldn’t really get a foothold to begin at the Northwest, though SULTAN was pretty much a gimme (3D: [“The ______ of Swat” (Ruth’s nickname)]). FETA should have been a lay-up as well, but was overthinking for some reason and didn’t put it down immediately (5D: [Crumbly salad topper]). Went down to the Southwest, and that’s where I knew ANACONDA off the bat, then I really started working that area (31D: [1997 horror film set in the Amazon]). From there, I got WASTE (52A: [Nuclear _____]) and HUT pretty easily (48D: [Rough house]), and that set me up, with just two of the letters filled in, to get ENCHANTED FOREST, an entry I really liked (47A: [Setting for a fantastic story, perhaps]). The other 15-letter entry, BELATED BIRTHDAY, took much longer to get, as I was thinking about all of the headings used on the aisles containing birthday cards (17A: [Greeting card genre]). By the way, I won’t be able to think about REYNOLDS Wrap without thinking about rap music, with the way the clue was presented (14D: [Wrap star]). For the rest of the day, you can refer to me as DJ Foil. Hmm, as a matter-of-fact, that’s actually not a bad on-stage name. I’m foiling all other music artists who think they’re just as good as me!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: LUKAS (26A: [D. Wayne _____ (trainer of four Kentucky Derby winners)])– Darrell Wayne LUKAS owns the record for the most Triple Crown race wins by a trainer with 14, setting the new mark when his horse, Oxbow, won the Preakness Stakes in 2013. What were the names of the four winning Kentucky Derby horses for Lukas you ask? Well, there’s Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999).
See you all in the new week!
Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Heads of State” — pannonica’s write-up
Standard two-letter state abbreviations are prefixed to existing phrases, altering them. The states are indicated by referencing a prominent city in the state,
- 22a. [Philly 16-year-old’s ride?] PARENTAL CAR (PA, Pennsylvania).
- 34a. [Where Madisonians print money?] WITHIN MINTS (WI, Wisconsin).
- 65a. [Times for lawnwork in Kansas City?] MOWING SPANS (MO, Missouri).
- 93a. [Atlantan’s Africa safari?] GABON VOYAGE (GA, Georgia). A potentially confusing Savannah reference is obviated by 100a [Treeless plain] SAVANNA.
- 107a. [Providence doc’s highest-value pic?] RICHEST X-RAY (RI, Rhode Island).
- 15d. [Organize Little Rock nomads?] ARRANGE ROVERS (AR, Arkansas).
- 19d. [Richmond bum’s resting place?] VAGRANT’S TOMB (VA, Virginia).
- 54a. [Commandeer VWs on Oahu?] HIJACK RABBITS (HI, Hawaii).
- 57d. [Craving for candelabras in Bangor?] MENORAH JONES (ME, Maine).
Most of these preserve the original word spacing. It’s interesting to note that the compound wingspan and jackrabbit share similar Ngram historical frequencies relative to their two-word versions. No dramatic recombinations here. On balance, I found them to be mostly entertaining, though some are strained. (89d [Strained, in a way] COLADA.)
- 9d [Atoll of W.W.II fame] TARAWA, 43d [Soprano Kiri Te __ ] KANAWA. I feel like David Letterman at the Oscars in ’95. See also, Tinariwen (Grooveshark is defunct, alas; it was inevitable).
- 39d [Skillet] FRYPAN, 2d [Sturdy vessel] SEA BOAT. The former seems much more familiar to me (evidenced in part by the compounding of the word), but they possess similarities.
- 91a [Major Nelson’s aide] JEANNIE. “Aide” seems clunky here.
There’s easily more to say about this crossword, but unfortunately I was unable to get to it until late in the day, so it’s unlikely to generate much conversation at this point. It’s an uncontroversial puzzle anyway, as far as I know.