Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword
Almost all of Byron’s themed puzzles in recent years have appeared in the AV Club crossword. (If you’re not a subscriber, you can buy past puzzles à la carte for $1 apiece. Byron’s have appeared about once every 8 weeks.) Here, the theme is rather fishy:
- 19a. [Criticized nigglingly], CARPED ABOUT.
- 21a. [Roosted on], PERCHED ATOP.
- 36a. [Struggled to make progress], FLOUNDERED AROUND. “Floundered about” also works. Did you notice that this answer is 16 letters long, and so the puzzle is wider than usual?
- 56a. [Proceeded without trying very hard], SKATED ALONG.
- 59a. [Classic out-of-office sign … or what this puzzle’s author has done?], GONE FISHING. The past tense of “gone” works well with the past tense of the fishy verbs in the four theme answers. Each theme phrase also ends with a preposition/adverb that starts with A.
As is typical in Byron’s themed puzzles, we have an assortment of long fill. I’m partial to CLOUSEAU, OLD MONEY, TAX DODGES, SIR GALAHAD, and KEEP IT REAL. Shorter bits I liked include AVALON, GAS-X, GULPS, CANOEISTS is absolutely a word, but I feel like “those people canoeing” is a more familiar way to refer to people using canoes. SALT DOMES? 45a. [Halite formations that might be oil reservoirs]? I did not know this one. Also not sure I’ve seen 48d EMO POP before (as opposed to just emo). Also not familiar with SKYING (66a. [Hitting high in the air]). And I don’t know what RICE SEEDS is doing here. You know what the seed of the rice plant is? It’s those grains of rice that you eat, before the outer bran has been removed. If you don’t grow your own rice, RICE SEEDS are not something you concern yourself with.
There’s a fair amount of “What’s this doing in a Tuesday puzzle?” fill here. UTNE, URI, UVEA, APER, ORA? And a number of abbreviations, prefixes, and suffixes that fail to excite.
3.75 stars from me.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “It’s E->Z” – Derek’s write-up
This one actually gave me fits! The theme didn’t occur to me until I was a good 5 minutes in, and then I still wasn’t thinking clearly enough to solve this any quicker. I even forgot what the theme was in filling in the last entry I completed! Let me list the thematic entries first. Each one takes a familiar phrase and replaces an E with a Z:
- 17A [Possible autobiography title for comedian Horatio?] STAYING SANZ
- 21A [Hardly Mercedes quality?] NOT A BENZ
- 36A [Cracker you must hand over to get through?] RITZ OF PASSAGE
- 51A [Fuzzy green stuff growing on a former Comedy Central “Dr.”?] KATZ MOSS
- 57A [Hip bath in the great outdoors?] CAMPING SITZ – These aren’t so “hip” if you’re FORCED to use one…
A funny set of entries, as is usual for Matt. There are a few entries in here I wasn’t as familiar with as I could have been, and the time reflects it. I am going to blame it on the cold weather! I will tackle some of the entries that tripped me up in the recap list:
- 5A [Riding around the city, maybe] IN A CAB – I don’t think I have ever ridden in a cab! One of these days…
- 61A [Getting a move on, quaintly] HIEING – If you say so. Not my favorite.
- 13D [Old Spice deodorant variety] RED ZONE – Great alternative clue to a reference to football. They usually have hilarious commercials!
- 30D [Thin fibrous bark (or one-third of a dance instruction for Lisa Simpson)] TAPPA – I was not familiar with either reference here. Admittedly, I don’t watch The Simpsons, so there’s that. Here is proof that his clue is legit!
- 36D [Like people on some dating apps] RATEABLE – This also seems like a reach. Anything is rateable, isn’t it? Also can be spelled “ratable,” in case you were wondering.
- 37D [“It’s hard to tell”] I CAN’T SAY – I like this a lot. Probably my favorite in the puzzle. No appearances in a NYT, according to the database!
- 42D [Seoul food] KIMCHI – I love Asian food, and this stuff is good. Don’t know if I would like eating dog, though….!
- 44D [Latin for “higher,” as in the Olympic motto] ALTIUS – Just because it’s in the Olympic motto, which NOBODY knows, doesn’t make this fair game. Or maybe it’s just me who doesn’t know it! Maybe I will see it during the wall-to-wall Rio coverage coming up in a few months!
A tad harder than usual for a Jonesin’, but still fun. 3.8 stars today. Until next week!
Tom Pepper’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
I like this theme! The theme answers all have the word “itemized” in the clue, and they are all phrases that include the word “two,” but instead of the word two, there are actually two of whatever is being doubled. Let me just list them to show you:
- 17A [Dickens classic, itemized] A TALE OF CITY CITY (A Tale of Two Cities)
- 28A [Smugly prudish sort, itemized] GOODY SHOE SHOE (Goody two-shoes)
- 47A [Country/western dance, itemized] TEXAS STEP STEP (Texas Two-Step)
- 63A [Chime in, itemized] ADD ONE’S CENT CENT (Add one’s two cents)
Well done! Seems fairly original, although I am sure someone may have done something similar at some point in time. But perhaps not! A fairly easy puzzle overall, but it’s always good when the theme makes you smile. Fill is pretty clean; hardly anything obscure in here. Only a couple of notes on this one:
- 43A [St. Teresa’s home] AVILA – This is a tad obscure, especially if you don’t know your Catholic saints!
- 70A [“Ghost Hunters” channel] SYFY – Also, the Sharknado channel! I think Face Off, the reality show with make-up artists, is on this channel as well. I recommend Face Off, not so much Sharknado!
- 3D [Befuddled] IN A FOG – I feel like I live a large percentage of my life in this state…
- 44D [So far] AS OF NOW – This is good. A rare NYT entry, according to xwordinfo.com
- 58D [Jewish month before Nisan] ADAR – I had ELUL in there at first. ADAR is more common. A little rare, but still fair game.
All in all, well done. 4.2 stars. A nice puzzle for a Tuesday. If you’re in the cold part of the country like me, hang in there!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 242), “High-Tec Solution”—Janie’s review
Cute theme (if not always as tight as one might like…) and smart theme execution today. But did you glom on to it during or after the solve? Me, I had no idea of what was going on during or after. I wasn’t even certain that I’d be able to explain the theme at all, and then—at last—the light went on. A little bit anyway. “Tec” (see title…) is slang for “detective” and the first word of each of the five themers is the last name of a fictional detective. Yay—I got it! But why the theme-set should appear vertically had me ASEA [Confused]. So arbitrary, right? Wrong. So artful. How better to convey the “high-” component of “high-tec” than to place the detective’s name at the top of the fill? In case there was any question in your mind, that’s what I mean by “smart theme execution.” And here are our themers:
- 3D. [Preliminary activity] SPADE WORK. Dashiell Hammett’s Sam SPADE. First-rate genre/noir/pulp tec. (SPADE WORK, of course, is a gardening term).
- 5D. [1973 “Dirty Harry” sequel] MAGNUM FORCE. Tom Selleck’s pre-Blue Bloods persona/show, (Thomas) MAGNUM, P.I. Inspector Harry Callahan is with the SFPD, so we’ve got a detective cluing a detective, in essence. Love the idea of the fill, just not wild for how we get there.
- 7D. [Soviet flag symbols] HAMMER AND SICKLE. Mickey Spillane’s Mike HAMMER. More of the first-rate genre stuff. And we get a dazzling grid-spanner to boot. Terrific!
- 27D. [Fixed a limit] DREW THE LINE. “Caroline Keene”‘s Nancy DREW, who has been a role model for would-be girl-sleuths since 1930. Ms. Keene is actually a pseudonym for the many men and women who have created adventures for Nancy and her cohorts.
- 35D. [Pantry containers] MASON JARS. Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry MASON. Yep—in addition to being a lawyer, Perry was an unlicensed P.I. Which I only learned from reading this. Try to ignore the typos. It’s got a lot of good info about Gardner’s rightful place in the pantheon of pulp masters.
So we get three pulp heroes (who had later lives on film and TV), one (male) character created for TV, and one precocious teenage girl who started out in books and moved on to movies and TV herself. Four guys, one gal. Four with written-word roots, one with TV-only credentials. All, however, have eminently puzzle-worthy last names (that can all be found in puzzle-worthy phrases). Not the tightest of theme sets, but as I said at the beginning, kinda cute.
The puzzle doesn’t get tons of support from the quantity of longer fill (six sixes, two sevens), but quality counts! Between the fill and the clues, I was quite happy with the likes of WALNUTS [Squirrels’ stash] (yep—didn’t realize it, but they’re into far more than acorns…); the sarcastic use of “OH, GREAT…”; NUTMEG [Mulled cider spice] (mulled cider: “TASTY!”); RECALL [Automaker’s dread] (ouch!); AMATIS [Expensive violas] (which, since AMATI was Italian, pairs nicely with AMORE [Love to Luigi]); UDDERS [Milk dispensers] (which, because eating this leads to milk production, pairs nicely with the crossing GRASS [Cow chow]); DO-SI-DO [Square-dancing maneuver]; and (**SPOILER ALERT**) NORMAN [Psycho in “Psycho”].
You may remember that, a few weeks ago, I spoke out about the high number of names and proper nouns in the puzzle. Am sorry to say I have the same complaint today. By my count, there are some 20 of ’em—10 alone densely packed into the top third of the grid. And two (Mata) HARI and (Alley) OOP appearing in their partial forms. On top of the puzzle’s three additional partials (plus a FITB that skates close to the same territory [“Bali HAI“]…), this is an unfortunate combo. IMOO. Your mileage may vary!
Two little surprises that I like a lot? The stacking (and cluing) of RETRO and PASSÉ, the former coming to us by way of [Old, but hot], the latter [Old, but not hot]. Sweet. Kudos, too, for the [Cairo’s river] OHIO pairing. Not Cairo, Egypt, and the NILE, but Cairo, OHIO (pronounced KAIR-oh), and the OHIO River. Smart.
And with that, I leave you for today. Keep solving—and let’s do this again next week!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Size Matters” — Jim’s review
Time to wake up and smell the COFFEE!
It’s always nice to be greeted with a Liz Gorski byline. Today she offers us a quick jolt to get the work week going.
The revealer is at 45D. Unusual placement, sure, but at six letters, it must have been difficult to find a home for it. Realizing it could cross the last themer, I’m sure that this, plus the 13-letter central themer, drove the grid design.
Anyhoo, the revealer is of course, COFFEE [Starbucks energizer, and a hint to the starts of this puzzle’s theme answers]. By the way, that’s Starbucks the COFFEE chain, not the Moby Dick character nor Battlestar Gallactica character. (Cool. Just found out that Dana Scully, X-Files character was nicknamed Starbuck. Anyone know that already?) According to Wikipedia, Starbucks is named Starbucks because one of the co-founders rejected the name Pequod. Good choice, methinks.
Given the revealer and the title, it seems we’re looking for cup sizes as defined by Starbucks.
- 17A [Nascar-inspired comedy starring Will Ferrell] TALLADEGA NIGHTS
- 33A [A diva knows how to make one] GRAND ENTRANCE
- 53A [Exhausting things?] VENTILATION FANS
Nice theme set including two grid-spanning entries. These are the three main sizes for drinks at Starbucks, however there are two other sizes not represented. There is a Short size which may or may not be advertised. And then there’s the Trenta which is reserved for iced COFFEE and other cold drinks.
Not much more to the theme so let’s move on. Look at those NW and SE sections—wide open spaces with just a smattering of gluey bits. I love the NW with HOT DATE at 1D followed by ALARMING and LIL ABNER. In the SE, we have CAROL ALT (full name) and EGOMANIA. Oh, and in the center, PET NAME. Nice.
Plus, so much other fun fill: ABSOLUT crossing KAHLUA, APRICOT, SEA AIR, IV TUBE. And NOOMI Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the Swedish films.
There are a few examples of more unusual crosswordese: 22A AMBOY [Perth ___, New Jersey], 25A UBS [Swiss financial company whose logo is three crossed keys], 28A BRAE [Scottish hillside], and 46D DAVIT [Lifeboat-lowering crane]. But I found these more interesting than problematic.
There are the more usual examples of crosswordese (ETAT, III, DOA, AGS, TAS, ENE) and a dupe in NO-GO and GO FLAT, but this is a tough grid to fill despite only three themers. All in all, the pluses outweigh the minuses, and this made for a light but fun puzzle.
Check out this Starbucks order song from YouTuber and singer Todrick Hall. The video’s a little rough, but the song is brilliant.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Cosmos”—Ade’s write-up
Good afternoon, everyone! It’s a chilly one here in New York, so I hope you’re all staying warm wherever you are. Today’s crossword, brought to us by Mr. Martin Ashwood-Smith, takes up some space, as in the beginning and ending letters in each of the theme entries can combine to spell “space.” The reveal, OUTER SPACE, is the fifth and final theme entry (60A: [The cosmos, and an apt description of 16-, 19-, 34-, and 55-Across]).
- SPRINT RACE (16A: [100-meter dash, e.g.])
- SPAGHETTI SAUCE (19A: [Ragù or Prego]) – Mmmm. My preferred spaghetti sauce is Francesco Rinaldi. Honestly, I should make my own spaghetti sauce.
- SPANISH RICE (34A: [Madrid dish]) – Honestly, stop making me hungry, Martin!
- SPIT IN ONE’S FACE (55A: [Show extreme disrespect to])
Was I the only person who initially spelled the first across entry “upsy” instead of UPSA (1A: [Daisy opening?])? I was? Oh, OK then! Oh, and there’s the interesting aspect of “asps” being used as a clue for once, complementing SERPENTS (3D: [Asps, e.g.]). Both sides of the grid bent the truth, as one featured a LIE (21A: [Commit perjury]) while the other had A FIB in it (47A: [Tell ____ (prevaricate)]). The latter was part of a few multiple-word entries and/or partials that stuck out in the grid, including NEED I (12A: [“____ say more?”]) and OF ST. (40A: [“Spirit ____ Louis”]). As I alluded to when listing the theme entries, the food aspect of it was very prevalent. But even outside of the themes, we had a lot of helpings of food and refreshments, including PEPSICO (2D: [Soft drink giant]) and HARDEE’S, which I have never been to (36D: [Fast-food chain]). No matter where you dine, it’s never a bad thing to down all your food with a fine BREWSKI – that is, if you do dabble in alcohol (14D: [Cold beer, slangily]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: REDS (65A: [Cincinnati nine]) – News just came out today that Pete Rose, whose lifetime ban from baseball and from the Hall of Fame was recently upheld by new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, will be inducted into the Cincinnati REDS Hall of Fame in June. The team had to submit the plans of honoring Rose for its team’s Hall of Fame that had to be approved by MLB – which it was.
See you on top of the hump on Wednesday!