If you didn’t snag the first eight Washington Post Sunday puzzles by Evan Birnholz already, be sure to snag them via this link. The puzzles are available only till February 8.
David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
First up in this 70-worder: Clues of note.
- 9a. [Whiz at multiplication?], RABBIT. Animal sex, people. A marvel of nature.
- 38a. [What some pockets are filled with], AIR. I think this works both for air pockets and for clothing or bag pockets that happen to be empty.
- 7d. [Pilot’s opposite], SERIES FINALE. I first thought of airline pilots and the verb.
- 50d. [Man, but not woman], ISLE. Hidden capital letter in Isle of Man.
- 54d. [Small vault], HOP. The “jump” sort of vault, not the “bank safe” type.
- 3d. [Its icon contains a pair of quavers], ITUNES. Those are quavers? Okay!
- 18a. [Relative of Rex], BOWSER. Ha! On Tuesday, I made fun of the NYT puzzle for using “Bowser” to mean “generic dog,” and now we see that the editor was just setting us up to accept BOWSER clued as if this is what people actually name dogs. I know Sha Na Na is a retro (and mostly forgotten) pop-culture reference, but at least that BOWSER is completely fact-based.
Favorite fill includes good ol’ ACID-WASH, SELFIE STICK, MADE IN CHINA, “HOW’S LIFE?”, PYRENEES, “BRING IT!”, MOONROOF, SERIES FINALE, and ROSE CEREMONY.
On the down side, DO TO A TEE, while legit, looks sort of ugly in the grid. The plural DRUG WARS feels a little off—I saw Sicario and there was a lot about Mexican and Colombian cartels, but I’m not recalling this phrase. LONGING EYES feels entirely contrived to me. Plural HES, I’d always prefer a possessive HE’S clue.
I needed all the crossings for 36d. [Swiss treaty city], LOCARNO. This town of 15,000 hosted some post-WWI treaty negotiations in 1925.
3.9 stars from me.
Barry C. Silk’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
As is usually the case, One Across is slightly difficult. I will explain in the comments, but it’s a good clue. I still was able to start in the upper left and slowly work my way around the puzzle to the eventual end. Another very solid LAT puzzle, with great fill and clues. Time was just over 7 minutes, so not bad, especially since I wasn’t really racing through this one. HENBANE at 42A didn’t come to me as quickly as I would like, or the time may have been even better. Barry makes excellent themeless puzzles, and this one is no different. We will rate it 4.3 stars.
I will stop raving incoherently now and examine a few clues more closely!
- 1A [R&B Foods brand since 2014] RAGU – Who is R&B Foods, you ask? This website explains all, but basically the “R” is for Ragu and the “B” is for Bertolli.
- 25A [1997 Hawke/Thurman sci-fi film] GATTACA – Anybody else spell it GATTICA like I did at first?
- 37A [“Aaugh!”] OH NO! – Surprised the famous speed skater isn’t referenced here!
- 41A [Crystal of country] GAYLE – My mother’s name! Her first name, of course. And spelled correctly to boot! Hi Mom!
- 53A [Most elementary level] GROUND ZERO – I guess this makes sense, but it seems more to be like a base of operations, or center of activity. Or center of a nuclear blast. Seems a little off to me.
- 3D [Mario game racers] GO KARTS – Filled this in first! Who hasn’t played this game??
- 5D [Storms of the 90s] GEOS – I think my brother owned one of these. Or maybe he had a Geo Tracker. Great clue here; we are referring to the car manufacturer here.
- 35D [Wine-and-fruit beverage] SANGRIA – I am not a big fan of Applebee’s, but I love their sangria drinks you can order. They even have a new blackberry flavored one!
Now that I am thirsty, time to find something to drink! Until Tuesday for my next LAT review!
Anna Stiga’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up
Ouch. That’s all I can say this morning! I got a decent foothold in this puzzle, but the whole upper half stumped me good. I was going to go for a run this morning, but it’s a bit icy out, so that will have to wait until later when the temp rises up into the 40s.
Having said all that, a great puzzle by Stan today! A great wide-open center section with 15 passing through the middle. Sheer genius, in my opinion! And all done with pretty good words. I don’t think BAD-HUMORED is the greatest entry; I hear ILL-HUMORED more. But if that is the worst entry in this 68-worder, then the constructor has done a terrific job.
Lots of challenging clues today. Some of my faves:
- 1A [Barbecue serving] KEBAB – I actually had MCRIB in there for a time! No wonder my time was terrible!
- 14A [Land north of the Pacific] PANAMA – This is technically true, but my mind took me to the extreme north Pacific near Alaska!
- 15A [Colonists’ quest, perhaps] SELF-RULE – I thought SUFFRAGE might fit in there at first, but I knew that couldn’t be right. Great clue here.
- 1D [Barack’s first HHS secretary] KATHLEEN – I actually knew this was Kathleen Sibelius; I remember when she was hired. Didn’t catch the trick that we are looking for first names here until it was too late!
- 6D [Wrong admission] I STAND CORRECTED – I got this with just the last four letters filled in. Great entry and clue.
- 13D [Stuck (out)] PEEPED – This doesn’t seem quite right either as a clue; a not as common definition of the word, though. Maybe we just don’t speak this way in Indiana!
- 14D [Human bone that whales lack] PATELLA – Makes sense!
- 28D [He unveiled the first Country Music Hall of Fame plaques] ERNEST TUBB – Ah, the “Texas Troubadour”. I have never heard of him. Perhaps because he passed away 30+ years ago? Or maybe because I don’t listen to country music that much? Especially 50s country music!
- 47D [In before, out now] PASSE – Yes, I put RETRO in there first!
So in summary, a lot of misdirection that fooled me completely! But a great puzzle, and a lot of head-scratching fun for a Saturday morning! 4.6 stars from me! I am off for several errands this Saturday, so hopefully I can have a nice relaxing Super Bowl Sunday. Enjoy the game, everybody!
Kurt Krauss’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Seeing Stars” — pannonica’s write-up
Just in time for the lunar new year, it’s a CHINESE ZODIAC theme. 63-across a [What the starts of the answers to the 12 starred clues make up]. See what they did there? Stars for the figures (as per the title as well), although these particular figures aren’t correlated with stars or constellations the way those in the Western zodiac are. Alternately, China has sometimes been termed the Celestial Empire, so there’s that.
- 1a. [*It holds private information] DOG TAG. Tricksy clue right away.
- 23a. [*Way into Wonderland] RABBIT HOLE.
- 25a. [*Striped ocean predator] TIGER SHARK. Not as markedly striped as the associative name suggests.
- 37a. [*He sways while he plays] SNAKE CHARMER.
- 42a. [*”Peanuts” character] PIG PEN.
- 48a. [*John Wayne’s Oscar-winning role] ROOSTER COGBURN.
- 81a. [*Tomfoolery] MONKEY BUSINESS.
- 87a. [*Tricked-out custom car that may with a junker] RAT ROD. I believe this is also associated with illustrator Robert Williams’ style.
- 89a. [*Track transport] HORSE TRAILER.
- 107a. [*Chevre, e.g.] GOAT CHEESE.
- 110a. [*Mint family plant with double-lipped flowers] DRAGON HEAD. Because I’d answered 99d [Railroad siding] with LAY-BY, DRAGON–YAD confronted me and the ‘double’ of the clue suggested DYAD. Hey, DON’T RUSH ME (72d), I was going to reveal that it’s LIE-BY.
- 119a. [*Sunflowers’ cousins] OXEYES.
For what little it may or not matter, these do not appear in the traditional sequence (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig).
The crossword played mostly easy, with some mildly fiendish clues scattered here and there as the occasional stumbling block (not listing them this time)—but the only legitimate hold-up was that lower right corner. Speaking of which, forgot to mention that 106a “Can’t say AS I DO” (quaint “no”) was far from immediately forthcoming.
Our long downs are TABLESPOON, DON’T RUSH ME, CHARTREUSE, and FENWAY PARK (located at 4 Yawkey Way (!)).
- 58a [“The Middle” daughter] SUE. No idea what this is. Malcolm in the Middle?
- 113a, 114a [Still] EVEN, YET.
- Factette: [First president to travel above the Arctic Circle] OBAMA. Does this include those who may have flown in an airplane via a transpolar route? To, say, Scandinavia or Russia or east Asia? Somehow I doubt it.
- 55a [Pillow stuffing] KAPOK.
- As half-mentioned earlier, there were a bunch of clever clues but again I’m not going to list them. Trust me, they were quite good. I really, really wish I could list them … but I can’t. Just can’t. Quite a lot there were, actually.
The fill is overall clean, with a low CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials). Include a decent theme and a SCAD (103d) of very good and entertaining clues, that adds up to an above-average offering.