Zachary Spitz’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up
Today we have the debut NYT puzzle of University of Chicago freshman Zachary Spitz. The theme is phrases literally (and punnily) described by adjectives:
- 20a. [It’s striking!] LIGHTNING BOLT
- 33a. [It’s unbelievable!] BALD FACED LIE
- 43a. [It’s breathtaking!] ASTHMA ATTACK
- 59a. [It’s remarkable!] DRY ERASE BOARD
DRY ERASE BOARD is pretty darn clever and my favorite of the four because RE-MARKABLE as literally describing a dry-erase board is so different than the usual meaning for REMARKABLE. The other themers are solid, but not as inventive.
The fill is REMARKABLy smooth for a debut. Loved RAKISH, STRIDENT, ROXIE. As I finally just saw The Imitation Game a couple weeks ago, I appreciated ENIGMA as well. The clue for JOB TITLE stood out [Assistant to the regional manager, for one] for me because Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute from “The Office” is hysterical.
Things that weren’t great: R AND D, HST, and the clue for MEN [Exasperated comment from a feminist], which seems to suggest that feminism is equated with annoyance at an entire gender instead of at the systems which have caused the need for feminism. Other than that, the fill is lovely and the cluing straightforward but fair. 3.75 stars.
Now here are IAN McKellen and Patrick Stewart doing impersonations of each other, because they are adorable.
Jacob Stulberg’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “No Sex Please, We’re British” — Jim’s write-up
You read that right. Let’s talk about sex, baby.
Somewhat risqué title for a WSJ crossword, but if you didn’t know, as I didn’t, it’s actually a reference to a 1971 British theatrical comedy. According to Wikipedia, “It was unanimously panned by critics, but played to full houses until 1987 at three different theatres (the Strand, the Garrick and the Duchess), totalling 6,761 performances. It did not share the same success with American audiences, running for only 16 performances on Broadway in early 1973.” (Must have been something about the “humour” that we just didn’t get.)
How does this relate to the puzzle? Let’s look at the theme answers.
- 20A [Opinionated outback critter?] A ROO WITH A VIEW
- 28A [Waterproof footwear for a worker?] BEE WELLINGTON
- 45A [Meeting in a cheese shop?] BRIE ENCOUNTER
- 52a [Result of tossing firecrackers into the fireplace?] BANGERS AND ASH
What’s going on? Well, we’ve neutered (and spayed) the theme entries by removing the Ms and Fs (one M or F per entry; two Ms overall and two Fs). Bob Barker would’ve loved this theme.
Also, if you’ll notice, each of the original theme phrases is something British. A ROOm WITH A VIEW is a 1908 novel by E. M. Forester and a 1985 film with an all-star cast. Similarly, BRIEf ENCOUNTER is a 1945 film. I didn’t know this one, and the title is so generic that I questioned the Britishness of all the theme answers. But it turns out to have received several awards and Oscar nods.
The other two are food-related. BEEf WELLINGTON comes from the British fascination of putting meats into pastries. Also, WELLINGTON boots, or “wellies”, are what we call galoshes.
BANGERS AND mASH are sausages and mashed potatoes. According to Cockney Rhyming Slang, it may also mean “cash” or “trash”. A BANGER can also be a demolition derby car for obvious reasons.
The theme seemed a bit thin to me: simply removing Ms and Fs from British things. Seems like you could go on forever making theme entries from the world of film, TV, books, slang, place names, Underground stations, Kings, Queens, actors, actresses, etc.—that is, until I started looking. I didn’t spend a ton of time searching, but the best I could come up with was QUEEN mOTHER (meh). Still, given enough time, I should think you could come up with a host of additional theme answers. Further, the theme entry clues didn’t do a lot for me humor-wise. (Oh! Maybe it’s that British “humour” again.)
It occurs to me you could go the other way and add some sex to Britishisms. How about DOCTOR WHOM?
Aside from the theme, I liked NICE TRY, COLD ONE, BUNSEN, CHEAPO, and MUENSTER (almost crossing BRIE). RATE HIKE and TV CAMERA round out the other long Downs along with the crossword-friendly Armand ASSANTE. MSS is the only real objectionable crutch fill. EVIE and O’SHEA are tired, but such is their lot in crosswording life.
Bottom line: A solid grid with little gunk, but a rather thin theme. 3.5 stars.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s AVCX crossword, “Heads of State” — Ben’s Review
BEQ’s latest entry for the AV Club is pretty fantastic. I think I’d give it a 4.5/5 on the difficulty scale instead of the 5 it was given, just in comparison to last week’s stumper, but it’s definitely up there. This was another week where it took me a pass through the clues to realize what was going on with the theme entries, but things soon fell into place once I figured out the first one:
- 19A: Cinemas for people on Ashley Madison dates? — CHEATER’S THEATERS (CT)
- 24A: Doctor Who machine that only goes to the early part of the week in Paris? — MARDIS TARDIS (MT)
- 33A: “I kid you not, Angelina!” — NO LIE JOLIE (NJ)
- 44A: Horizontal line on a cab’s blueprint? — TAXI’S X-AXIS (TX)
- 58A: The singer of “Superstition”, way over there? — WONDER YONDER (WY)
- 60A: Monologist comedian posing for a lying-down meme shot? — PLANKING ALAN KING (PA)
One of these days I’ll remember to read the title of the puzzle before I dig in all the way – “Heads of State” should have been a total giveaway that I needed to put a state abbreviation in the squares that didn’t quite resolve going down to make their respective across clues make sense. Of the theme clues, my particular favorites this week were 44A and 60A.
I got slightly thrown off by 55A being GYM, since the one roommate I had that did crossfit always referred to the place he went as “the Crossfit BOX I go to”, but maybe that’s just a New England thing. It’s also nice to see NEWT Scamander show up at 65A – I’m already excited for that movie just based on the promo photos. Hopefully it’s as good as the Harry Potter series (and maybe not quite as long in running time – Chamber of Secrets can be a slog to sit through for 3 hours). There’s not a lot of stale fill in the puzzle (at least to my eyes), and where there is, it’s interestingly clued – I wasn’t expecting a German Kraftwerk clue for ICH at 2D (although with BEQ, maybe I should have?), and ORONO had the trickier “Penobscot Valley Country Club town” for 49D.
Alex Eaton-Salners’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Blackout Drink”
I have never heard of the theme revealer, planted firmly in the center of the grid. MIND ERASERS are 36a. [Concoction equal parts vodka, Kahlua, and tonic water…which four answers in this puzzle obviously drank]. Not sure why the clue is singular when the answer is plural, unless the cocktail in question carries a plural name. And the four theme answers are not at all entities that could plausibly imbibe any drinks. Anyway, MIND is erased from four familiar phrases:
- 17a. [Lightsaber juggling and droid ventriloquism, say?], JEDI TRICK. Again, there’s a plural/singular mismatch between the clue and answer.
- 25a. [What the Roman counterpart to Hephaestus does to forge a sword?], VULCAN MELD. I don’t think melding has any application to metalsmithing, actually.
- 49a. [Above it all?], OVER MATTER. The only theme entry in which the MIND is dropped from the front rather than the middle.
- 60a. [“Please use me as the opposite of a role model”?], DON’T IF I DO. And this is the only theme entry in which it’s not a 3-word base phrase.
Theme inconsistencies and cluing issues knock this down to a mediocre 3-star theme for me.
Elsewhere in the puzzle:
- 15a. [Chopper for a jack], AXE. What the heck is a “jack” in this context? A jack pine (which the dictionary tells me is “chiefly found in Canada”)?
- 22a. [Like many Muslim-owned food carts], HALAL. Chicago is low on food cart action, alas, but I’ve bought chicken and rice from NYC’s halal carts.
- 34a. [Killer of Bill, in real life], UMA. Well, no. In real life, Uma Thurman probably hasn’t killed anyone. [The Bride, in real life] works better.
- 41a. [Janis ___ (“Mean Girls” character/first singer to appear on “SNL”)], IAN. Nice double-pronged trivia clue.
- 45a. [Baby buggy?], LARVA. Nobody really calls an insect a “buggy,” but this clue is super-cute.
- 64a. [Birthers, slangily?], MAMAS. I dispute calling MAMAS a “slang” term, but I like the play on “birthers.”
- 3d. [Little person, pejoratively], MIDGET. I would much rather have seen this clued as the 1961-1979 MG car model, the Midget. Nobody wants to see a derogatory term that has been applied to them in a crossword puzzle, clued as exactly that. Even the “pejoratively” hedge doesn’t make it okay. Would you drop the N-word in here with a [Black person, pejoratively] clue? No, you would not.
- 6d. [“Remember to add / the missing 6-Down clue here / oops I forgot to”], HAIKU. Nice!
- MIXED BAG, DEJA VU, and RAVIOLI are my favorite fill here.
3.2 stars from me.
Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Stick Your Neck Out”—Ade’s write-up
Good morning, everyone! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us today by Ms. Lynn Lempel, explores the various neckwear that men and women could incorporate in their wardrobe, as each of the theme entries are multiple-word answers in which the first word also happens to be a type of neckwear. What? No reference to Bolo Yeung, the popular villain in the martial arts movies Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport?
- BOA CONSTRICTORS (17A: [They’re known for squeezing out a subsistence])
- MUFFLER SHOP (27A: [Spot for reducing noise pollution]) – My father used to always say “muffler” when referencing a scarf, confusing the heck out of me for a while when growing up, when other people I would hang with called it anything but a muffler.
- BOWTIE PASTA (46A: [Rotini and ricciolini cousin])
- ASCOT RACE COURSE (59A: [Renowned track where Eliza Doolittle cheers for her horse])
A lot of strong fill, especially with the down entries. Took some time for me to unearth FORT APACHE for some reason (29D: [Soldiers’ base in the war against Geronimo]). Even though I wear SPORT COATS numerous times when reporting on location, can’t tell you the last time I ever wore it in an office (11D: [Men’s office attire, maybe]). Here’s hoping this grid woke you up with the java references of MR COFFEE (4D: [Maker of morning joe]) and BREW (5D: [Morning joe, e.g.]). I think you can replace “morning” in the clue with “afternoon” or “evening” and it would be just fine. (OK, I’m a non-coffee drinker who ‘s just fascinated at the amount of coffee people drink.) Could my semi-rant about coffee and the lack of coffee I drink be borne out of JEALOUSY of missing out on all the supposed great coffees out there (39D: [Emotion explored in “Othello”])? Hmm, maybe. If there’s one coffee that you could have me try and taste and believe that I would like it, what would it be?
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: HOLM (1A: [“All About Eve” actress Celeste]) – One of the hottest names in sports today is Holly HOLM, the former boxer and current mixed martial artist who just won the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title over the popular and previously unbeaten Ronda Rousey this past weekend down in Melbourne, Australia. With the win, Holm became the first person to win legitimate world championships in both boxing and MMA, as Holm first won the WBA Female Welterweight title back in 2006.
Thank you all for your time once again, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
Gary J. Whitehead’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
This feels like a well-mined theme: idioms meaning GOAPE or today [Lose it]. It’s well-mined because it makes for colourful theme answers. The rest of today’s set is: HAVEACONNIPTION, HITTHECEILING, THROWATANTRUM, FLYOFFTHEHANDLE. Note two THE’s and two A’s.
It is a densely-themed puzzle, but I still feel like not a lot of attention was paid to the shorter fill. The FLY pattern in the second row of the stack is problematic, but SFPD/ILEA/BYOB/RAYONS felt like too much compromise. Across the way POSSESSES is already giving ample esses, but going down is SDAK/ELKO/SESS. Too much glue?
I did enjoy the STARGAZES/DOOZIE crossing, after trying to figure out how to squish SKYWATCHES into nine squares…