Fred Piscop’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up
Our theme today is PASTA PUNS, where part of a common phrase is replaced by a type of Italian noodle:
- 20a. [Politician in charge of pasta?] ZITI COUNCILMAN
- 40a. [Pasta, apparently?] ORZO IT WOULD SEEM
- 58a. [Card game with pasta for stakes?] PENNE ANTE POKER
I can’t find much to say about the theme…it’s lighter than usual with three entries, and the phrases are all recognizable, and the pronunciation changes a bit for each pasta substitution. It very well could be brain fog from the virus I’ve been fighting for almost a week now, but the theme just doesn’t tickle me. Your mileage may vary, of course. I do appreciate orzo’s inclusion, as I tend to discount it when thinking of pasta because it’s also so rice-like. It probably feels left out of both the pasta and rice families, so it’s good to show orzo some love here.
Generally, a crossword with too much thematic content tends to suffer in the fill department, so when a puzzle is lighter on theme, it provides the chance for the fill to really shine. There are some nice entries here such as AKITA and DROOP, and some interesting longer entries like TORERO and METIER (which I did not know). Also, there was nothing egregious in the grid. As a whole, though, I feel like there was the opportunity for some solid longer entries and more sparkle than we are given. Three stars.
Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Well-Connected” — Jim’s review
Since the start of the Wall Street Journal daily puzzles back in September, Alice Long (one of editor Mike Shenk’s noms-de-guerre) has appeared 6 times. With one exception (Sat, Feb 20), Mike has used this byline only on Thursdays. So I’m sensing a pattern. Is it perhaps that he will reserve this pseudonym for trickier late-week puzzles? Well, today is a Wednesday, so maybe not. Let’s take a look.
We have six compound words as theme answers. The second word in each entry is the same as the first word in the subsequent entry, until we get to the last entry which loops around and brings us back to the beginning.
- 17a [Where a spring springs] WELLHEAD
- 21a [State of mind] HEADSPACE
- 32a [Four-dimensional system] SPACETIME
- 44a [Work record] TIMESHEET
- 54a [Drywall brand] SHEETROCK
- 62a [“Freedom From Want” painter] ROCKWELL
You see what he did there? Solid theme answers. Good choices, all. It’s a marvel that Mike found such a solid set that fits symmetrically.
As you’re solving the puzzle, each theme entry seems disconnected, but once you finish and say them all together, they flow nicely. Yes there is repetition (dare I say, duplication?) in the puzzle, but I like the circular rhythm going on here. It just flows.
I didn’t know SHEETROCK was a brand. I thought it was just a synonymous term for drywall, but I guess it’s like saying Kleenex when you want a tissue.
Away from the theme I like LET’S NOT at 9d best of all, but I don’t think it’s quite synonymous with the clue [“Why bother?”]. Other long stuff: ATHLETE, SNUCK UP, WITHDRAW, and SALTINE.
LAKE CITY (18d [Northeast section of Seattle]) is difficult if you’re not from western Washington, especially where it crosses KEAN (23a [1980s New Jersey governor Tom]), which itself crosses 6d which has a really tough clue [Bountiful fellow]. Apparently Bountiful, Utah exists and has a population of around 42,500 (better than Monday’s AZALEA PARK at 12,000!). I would have rather seen KEAN become KEEN and ASTA sacrificed for ESTA (not much of a difference since they’re both crosswordese). Also, 22d A DREAM seems like a partial but was apparently an [1827 Poe poem]. Other than those challenges, the puzzle played out WELL.
Enjoyable clues: 30a‘s [Tell tale item] for ARROW (that’s William Tell), 5d‘s [“The answer to this clue is an adjective,” say] for LIE, and 53d‘s [Toaster output?] for SKOAL (Norwegian toast).
Only one Abbr. in the whole grid (HTS at 26a) and one partial (SAW A at 29d) if you don’t count A DREAM. A remarkably WELL-polished grid!
Aimee Lucido’s AVCX crossword, “Players’ Numbers” — Ben’s Review
After last week’s meta puzzle (which seemed to go over well – 265 entries received!), the AV club is back with a super-sized 3/5 difficulty puzzle from Aimee Lucido that was right in my pop-cultural sweet spot:
- 24A: Hit song from a musical in which The Weeknd assumes a new appearance to catch a terrorist? — CAN’T FEEL MY FACE/OFF
- 31A: Hit song from a musical starring Taylor Swift satirizing Star Wars? — BLANK SPACEBALLS
- 56A: Hit song from a musical in which Drake steals clothes from LA celebrities? — HOTLINE BLING RING
- 77A: Hit song from a musical starring AC/DC as a ballet company in the midst of a mental breakdown? — BACK IN BLACK SWAN
- 90A: Hit song from a musical in which John Lennon plays a boy trapped on a small boat with a ferocious beast? — A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PI
I absolutely loved this theme and thought the pop song/movie mashups were clever, but I can totally see it not being your thing if you’re not following what’s on the radio or in theaters. Here’s some other great filling and clues from this week’s puzzle:
- 51A: British hunting cry — TALLY HO
- 86A: Post cereal that was mostly candy — OREO O’S (I remember this stuff and Aimee is very correct)
- 4D: Wet place to have sex that, while fun, raises important safety concerns — HOT TUB
- 64D: What Pokemon is not, no matter what you say! — FAD (My first thought on this one? OLD. The original game is 20. 20!)
Solid fill (without too many over-used entries) and a fun theme made for a fantastic solve on this larger than usual grid. Nicely done, Aimee and the AV Club!
Patrick Blindauer’s March website puzzle — “The Cheese Stands Alone” — Matt’s review
For the past couple of years Patrick has been quietly pioneering an intriguing little sub-subgenre of crossword puzzles, what I’ve labeled the “unannounced meta” (UM, a great initialism for this type of puzzle). This means that there’s a meta, but he doesn’t give you instructions or otherwise announce its presence. You just sense it’s there, usually from a little nudge he leaves somewhere.
These are tricky but fun; his May 2014 UM won Crossword of the Month, and October 2015’s was so tough that I wasn’t able to solve it.
He’s back with an easy one this month, and it’s subtly timely as well.
Our title is “The Cheese Stands Alone,” and our four theme entries are:
17-A [Gets a certain politcal group all fired up to go the polls?] = RALLIES LIBERALS. Almost a natural phrase in and of itself.
27-A [Supply issue at a hijacking school?] = HOSTAGE SHORTAGE. Dark humor.
46-A [Got cozy with a Greek god?] = SPOONED POSEIDON. Funny one. I bet Poseidon gets to be the big spoon.
61-A [Santa’s more studious employees?] = NERDIER REINDEER. I heard Vixen got 800 on the math portion of the SAT.
Here’s the subtle touch of the unannounced meta: you finish the puzzle and see the theme, but then what does that title mean? So you know there must be something more to it, even if you’re not familiar with Rule #1 of solving a Blindauer, which is: there’s always another layer.
Note that the first and second words of each theme entry differ by one letter, as italicized in the entries above: B-R-I-E they spell, giving you your cheese that stands alone. I’m vaguely familiar with that title, but I have to look it up: OK, it’s a line from the children’s song “The Farmer in the Dell.”
That’s nice as is, but remember there’s always an extra layer. That layer here is Oscar-winner Brie Larson, newly crowned Best Actress as of Sunday night. Patrick posted this puzzle a few days before that, though, so I assume Larson was such a favorite that he felt confident feting her before the inevitable happened.
***Toughish grid that took me 8:13. Stumbles included putting an F in for ?OUNDER clued as [Fail]. Makes sense, but so does the correct G; ERIS instead of the correct EROS for [Asteroid seen in 1898 and landed on in 2001], since Eris seems like a more apt fit for an asteroid than Eros; and PAIR instead of the correct PALS of PA?? clued as [Laverne and Shirley, e.g.].
***Lively fill: DHARMA, SHILOH, WISED UP, WASABI, GECKO, BARISTA, and WIKI.
***Favorite clues: the droll [“Star Wars: ___ Force Awakens”] for THE and [It’s the price you pay] for FEE.
4.45 stars. An easy but subtle unannounced meta, with logical steps to follow, a fitting title, and timely tie-in. Bravo.
Jeff Chen’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Joint Ventures”—Ade’s write-up
Hello there, everyone! Today’s crossword, brought to us by Mr. Jeff Chen, was a very lively grid with a lot of great long fill, with the theme being different types of places where you can get together; the first parts of each of the theme entries can precede the word “joint,” as in a location for people to get together. Although, some of the places mentioned where you can get together in this grid are places you might not want to be caught in! Also, do people call places of establishments “joints” anymore? If anything, it would have been awesome of one of the clues was this: “Possible maneuver performed when pressing a button while playing Madden 2016.” Answer: JUKE MOVE.
- PICKUP GAME (17A: [Impromptu court contest]) – Pick-up joint. “Court” refers to basketball court, chiefly. I guess you could walk onto a tennis court and challenge someone to a game as well.
- CLIP-CLOP (29A: [Sound of coconuts in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”]) – Clip joint. “Clip joint” also happened to be the nickname of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the once longtime home of the Los Angeles Clippers.
- GIN RUMMY (42A: [Relative of canasta]) – Gin joint. Had no idea that “gin joint” was another name for a speakeasy until just now.
- STRIP STEAK (56A: [Chophouse order]) – Strip joint. If you’re expecting a comment here, well, you’re right. Man, I would love some steak right now. The end.
As I said earlier, it’s so interesting that some of the places alluded to by the theme could conduct business that would be perceived as SEAMY (50A: [Sordid]). Don’t mind it one bit, though! What I would mind is someone patting me on the back while placing a KICK ME SIGN on it, a prank I vividly remember falling for while in elementary school (3D: [Practical joker’s placard]). Do kids no longer do that in school? Or the whoopee cushion? That entry was some of the amazing long fill in the grid, with STATIC CLING (10D: [Unwanted attraction]) and ANACHRONISM standing out, for both the fill and its accompanying clues also (24D: [Untimely mistake?]). Would anyone hold it against me that I have not seen HOME ALONE in its entirety yet (8D: [Film in which Joe Pesci plays a criminal])? Have always seen bits and pieces over the years, but never the whole movie from beginning to end. Not sure I’m missing too much, especially now. Oh, and I love the entry of MARLA, as now I’m thinking of all the times I watched 227 growing up (63A: [Actress Gibbs]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: MAIER (14A: [Gold medalist skier Hermann]) –Arguably the greatest male skier of all time, “The Herminator,” Hermann MAIER, won 54 World Cup races, won four World Cup titles and was an an Olympic medalist in two Winter Olympics, including winning gold in the giant slalom and the Super-G in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Amazingly enough, he was able to go on and win gold in Japan not too long after this happened to him earlier in the competition. Sakes alive!
Thank you for the time, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
Pawel Fludzinski ‘s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
I think I admire a puzzle theme more that I have considered then discarded. Today it’s phrases beginning with SWIMMINGSTROKES, with the elegant touch that they’re arranged in the order of the Olympic Medley. It’s touches like that that elevate a puzzle for me. I considered this basic concept at one point, but long starting phrases like BUTTERFLY and FREESTYLE didn’t seem to offer much to build from, so it was discarded. Not only did Mr. Fludzinski come up with a viable arrangement, he came up with a pretty colourful set! We have BACKTOTHEFUTURE, BREASTPOCKET, BUTTERFLYEFFECT, FREESTYLERAP, and SWIMMINGSTROKES.
Not much else worth noting:
- [Gin and tonic, e.g.], NOUNS. Ugh. These are the lowest form of misdirection…
- [Potter’s practice], MAGIC vs. [Potter’s supplies], CLAYS.
- [Stuffed pepper filling], RICE. That’s a thing? I thought it was sour cream? Sounds unappetising…
- [Betting aid: Abbr.], SYST. I don’t buy this as a legitimate abbr., though it appears fairly frequently.
- [Kid brothers or sisters, at times], PESTS. As the youngest child of five, I do not relate to this in the slightest…
Today’s WSJ took longer than usual (or maybe it seemed that way, since I blew through the NYT in seven minutes, probably due to caffeine consumption). Some names I’m just not familiar with (KEAN, DINAH). But I loved loved loved SNUCK UP. And the theme was fun. Good puzzle. SKOAL!
The NYT was a snoozer, I thought, but it reminded me of this Sporcle puzzle, pasta or Italian composer, in which you are presented with a list of Italian names and have to say whether they are — you guessed it — a pasta or an Italian composer. I had do a lot of guessing, once I got past the well-known ones.
I liked the Blinder a lot, and even got the point of the hidden meta. I was keeping my fingers crossed that the 22a would be ‘Isla’ not ‘Illa’, if you get my drift.
Blindauer. My damn computer is always telling me what to say, and sometimes I don’t notice it.
The Herminator was not the only one to fall on that particular section of the Men’s Downhill. Seven or eight others fell as they attempted to negotiate what became known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” It had rained for several days in a row and when the downhill finally got underway after being postponed several times because of the rain, that section was a sheet of glare ice. It was an all-time great fall, especially because Maier was not hurt.
NYT felt more like a Tuesday than a Wednesday. I enjoyed it.
Steve, I remember Hermann Maier’s dramatic and scary fall, (back in my skiing days), at the Olympics, but I can’t connect your comment to a puzzle. Was it referred to recently?
In the discussion of Jeff Chen’s CrosSynergY/Wadhington Post puzzle above, Maier was one of the answers and there is a clip of his famous wipeout.