Freddie Cheng’s New York Times crossword
I like seeing both the Chen and Cheng bylines on the same day, as both of their names pop up when I type “chen” in the post-tags box. (It’s cooler when I type “ian li” for Jeff’s WSJ coconstructor and both Ian Livengood and Julian Lim present themselves.)
Cheng’s theme is BREAKABLES, 62a. [Extra-care items for movers … or a hint to the starts of 17-, 24-, 28-, 44- and 49-Across]. You can break a fever, a record, a leg, a sweat, or a fall. Interestingly, none of those phrases involve actually, factually breaking an object into pieces. Idioms are neat.
- 17a. [High excitement], FEVER PITCH.
- 24a. [Desire of one submitting a demo CD], RECORD DEAL.
- 28a. [Workout attire that became a 1980s fad], LEG WARMERS.
- 44a. [Bottom of a gym?], SWEATPANTS. I hadn’t worn sweatpants in probably 15 years … until this summer. They are handy to wear after abdominal surgery.
- 49a. [Debut time for many TV shows], FALL SEASON.
Between FEVER, WARMERS, SWEAT, and the nonthematic FIRE DANCE, I was thinking we had a heat theme for a while here. I can’t have been the only one.
Top fill: That FIRE DANCE, economic KEYNESIAN, the fun GAZILLION (a word I use often).
Worst fill: If you’re like me and you’ve done crosswords for so long, you know lots and lots of crosswordese, there is actually a slight advantage to encountering a terrible entry. It raises the index of suspicion that subsequent answers will be equally terrible. And so it came to pass that after filling in that 12d. [Betel nut-yielding tree], the ARECA, well, 51d. [Confine to jail] was a total gimme. What else could it be but EMBAR, a word I pretty much never encounter aside from in crosswords? I’m not sure if 49d. [1993 Economics co-Nobelist Robert] FOGEL also belongs in the category of worst fill. Certainly I’ve never heard of him, and I don’t encounter that many Wednesday NYT answers that are utterly unfamiliar to me. Perhaps I am the worst for not knowing him.
Three more things:
- 25a. [Fertility clinic eggs], OVA? You know what? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Even if you don’t use a fertility clinic, even if you don’t ever even try to get pregnant, if you have ovaries, you have OVA. The eggs are eggs regardless of whether you consult a reproductive endocrinologist.
- 31d. [Backwoods parent], MAW. I prefer the “gaping maw” sort of MAW.
- 7d. [Ronco Veg-o-___], MATIC. This one belongs in the “worst fill” paragraph, too. There is a reason the entry shows up just once in the Cruciverb database.
Star rating … oh, I don’t know. Maybe 3.4.
Ian Livengood and Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Au Pair”—Jim’s write-up
Today we’re treated to not just one, but two veteran constructors known for their smooth grids and clever themes. But to my knowledge, this is the first time the two have teamed up. Anyone know differently?
Put up your dukes, because Ian and Jeff are giving us the ol’ ONE TO. (See what I did there?)
The theme revealer at 17a and 54a tells us that TWO CAN PLAY / AT THAT GAME. The other theme entries are familiar phrases that include a word which is the same as a title of a two-player game. They are:
- 23a [Event instigated by the doings of Paris], THE TROJAN WAR. WAR, the card game. I wanted just TROJAN WAR for this to start with. It’s not so common to use the definite article, so I resisted it and figured I must have gotten it wrong, especially since the other themers are all two-word phrases. I think I might have liked WAR SECRETARY better.
- 30a [Speakeasy], GIN JOINT. GIN, another card game. Great phrase.
- 37a [Sugary Southern dessert], CHESS PIE. Never heard of this even though I’ve lived in Mississippi for a number of years. I’ve heard of King Cake, but not CHESS PIE.
- 45a [Some magazine staffers], FACT CHECKERS. Obviously, they needed the plural here because the game name is plural.
The theme didn’t really help me to solve the puzzle because it was in the NW and SE where I was hitting stumbling blocks. Didn’t remember that Michael CAINE was in The Cider House Rules (I kept wanting to put in TOBEY). And I had TAR in for GOB at 56d. Thus, those sections went in last for me, but gave me a nice AHA moment.
This certainly played harder than the past two days, and that seems to have been the pattern for the past three weeks. Wednesday typically brings a tougher, more challengingly clued puzzle.
Apart from the theme we get some nice long downs and sparkly fill which we’ve come to expect from these constructors: ARSENIO with LEAD WEIGHT in the NE and HONEYCRISP in the SW. We also get a manly BEAR HUG from BARETTA. Fun!
Crudwise, there’s not much. We have the aforementioned ONE TO, and YAP AT just looks weird. BAHTS is not fun and ROUE doesn’t even look like a word. But none of that is terribly distracting. I had trouble with SATINET because (1) I didn’t know CHESS PIE was a thing, and (2) I had ALSO in for ELSE at 57a [In addition] (this gave me FARAD at 45d, which I liked, except it didn’t match the clue [Got by]).
- NUDIE? Really? What is this, 1955? :-)
- Can’t ever remember if it’s BARETTA or BERETTA. Did BARETTA use a BERETTA?
- Not sure how the title relates other than the “Pair” part. Au is the chemical symbol for gold, but that doesn’t play into it.
Overall, a fun clean puzzle with a nice AHA moment. 4 stars from me.
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
The theme is WILDCARDs. “WILD” is used here as an anagram signal, and so CARD is found scrambled five different ways in the other theme answers. This means 6 of the 4! (24) possible arrangements of CARD are on display. It’s slightly inelegant when the vertical and horizontal themers’ circles touch. It looks like ROADRACE is actually hiding ACARD not CARD.
Although the theme was busier than normal, I found the answer choices a little boring. We also got two convenient pluralisations. In a list, we got: CE(DARC)HESTS, SAN(DCRA)BS (not a type of crab, so much as any crab that lives in sand, it seems), HA(RDCA)NDY, PUBLI(CRAD)IO, and ROA(DRAC)E.
If anything the remaining longer answers were more fun than the theme: idiomatic PIGINAPOKE and PLAYDUMB; RETURNFIRE and BAVARIA – a nice collection. There’s also a reasonable amount of difficult fill and a lack of contrived answers on display.
Not a fan of the theme, but a solid crossword on balance.
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “H*lograms”—Ade’s write-up
Good afternoon, everyone! Today’s crossword is from Donna S. Levin (or her hologram), and it has a pretty interesting theme; each of the first letters of the first word of the four theme answers start with the letter H, and the final syllable of that first word is “low” but a different vowel is used as the second letter of each of those words.
- HELLO GORGEOUS (20A: [Streisand’s opening line in “Funny Girl,” which she repeated to her Oscar statuette])
- HILO, HAWAII (37A: [Home of the Pacific Tsunami Museum])
- HALO EFFECT (43A: [Psychological term for a type of cognitive bias])
- HOLLOW VICTORY (58A: [Pyrrhic result])
Our constructor might be a fan of seafood, with both SUSHI (1D: [California rolls, e.g.]) and MAHI both in the grid at the top (5D: [Dolphinfish, cut in half?]). Initially put in “swing” instead of SLIDE, and that cost me some time since I put in my wrong answer off of the “I” that’s in the middle of both those words (27D: [Playground apparatus]). As of this moment, I’m watching the Manchester United soccer team play in the Champions League (they just went a goal down within the first four minutes), and one of the players on the team is a Belgian named Marouane Fellaini, and I couldn’t help of think of him when filling in the answer to FELLINI (44D: [“Amarcord” and “La Dolce Vita” director]). But despite that near sports reference, we’re now OFF TO that section of the blog and seeing which clue is indeed the “sports…smarter” subject of the day (68A: [Bound for]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: DEION (26D: [Versatile athlete Sanders]) – Whether you called him “Neon Deion” or “Primetime,” DEION Sanders revolutionized the position of cornerback in the National Football League with his ability to defend and cover top-flight wide receivers to the point where quarterbacks would go entire games without throwing more than one or two footballs towards his side of the field. Sanders is also the only man to ever play in the Super Bowl and the World Series, as he won two Super Bowls as a member of the 49ers (XXIX) and Cowboys (XXX), as well as played on the 1992 Atlanta Braves team that made the Fall Classic. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
Thank you so much for the time, and I’ll see you tomorrow!