John Westwig’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Fun theme! Four famous people whose last names double as car makes pick up an apostrophe-S and the resulting phrases are clued as that famous person’s car:
- 20a. [How the Great Emancipator got around?], ABRAHAM’S LINCOLN. Technically impossible, as Henry Ford (Ford is Lincoln’s parent company) was not yet 2 when Lincoln was assassinated.
- 25a. [How the star of the Indiana Jones films got around?], HARRISON’S FORD.
- 42a. [How a Seattle Mariner great got around?], ICHIRO’S SUZUKI. My favorite of the four themers.
- 48a. [How Queen’s former frontman got around?], FREDDIE’S MERCURY.
It’s a simple theme, but I’m surprised to see it running on a Tuesday given how much of the fill lands on the late-week end of difficulty spectrum. ABAFT, PICOT, NIMES, ALECTO, YLEM?? After I hit the third or fourth one of these, there was a definite expletive exclamation. Either the grid needed some rework, or this puppy ought to have landed on Wednesday-plus.
Five more things:
- 14a. [Big name in denim], LEVI / 60a. [City near Avignon], NIMES. Would have preferred “jeans” to “denim” in that clue, since the fabric name derives from de Nimes.
- 12d. [Permanent thing?], CURL. Is anyone still getting perms? My stylist refuses to do them anymore.
- 25d. [Where Toussaint L’Ouverture led a revolt], HAITI. Isn’t ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture” one of the coolest names in history?
- 26d. [Coyolxauhqui worshiper], AZTEC. Can you pronounce that clue word? (It’s WERE-ship-ur.)
- 34d. [___ Avivian], TEL. I did not know “Tel Avivian” was the demonym for people in that city.
Four stars for the theme, 2.5 stars for the fill.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Slammed” – Derek’s write-up
So I just now realized, after puzzle #777 last week, that Matt has been cranking out a puzzle a week for over 14 years! There are only a handful of constructors who are that prolific and creative: Merl Reagle was definitely one, if not the best; Cox and Rsathvon produce a high volume of not only crosswords, but cryptics and acrostics as well; Brendan Quigley has two puzzles weekly on his site, in addition to many other puzzles at other venues; and of course Matt Gaffney is the king of the contest puzzle, his weekly offering now well over 400 strong. My point? Making puzzles is difficult; making good ones often is even harder, and Matt is simply one of the best. A true talent! (Did I miss anyone? Again, who else produces solid puzzles WEEKLY?)
Having said all that, this is another great theme idea from Matt. Perhaps it’s been done before, but Matt always has a nice sense of humor in his clues. Another word for getting “slammed” is getting “dissed,” and the theme answers are all punny ways to clue words that start with the letters DIS:
- 17A [“All that over your fireplace — are you trying to put Hummel out of business?”] DISMANTLED – My family is making fun of me because I am not familiar with Hummel figurines!
- 62A [“Your hair looks like it was styled by kittens”] DISTRESSED
- 11D [“You couldn’t even find your own butt on a Waze app”] DISLOCATED – I have heard of Waze!
- 29D [“Buying your weed wearing a pot leaf T-shirt? Like that’s original”] DISJOINTED
The clues make the puzzle! A solid 4 stars! Some other notes:
- 15A [“Game of Thrones” actress Chaplin] OONA – I am caught up on my Game of Thrones now! New season just started!
- 16A [Safe contents?] PIES – I have never heard of a “pie safe” either. I would call it a cupboard!
- 46A [“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” songwriter] ERIC IDLE – Great piece of trivia!
- 9D [“And so on”] YADA YADA – An alternate spelling? Is there even a correct spelling??
- 40D [How lottery numbers are chosen] AT RANDOM – A reminder: PowerBall is well north of $300 million this week … just saying!
Another awesome Jonesin’! Until next week!
Janice Luttrell’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Theme answers go down instead of across; sometimes this is because of some sort of gimmick or thematic reason, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Any puzzle with crossword symmetry can be flipped so the across answers go down and vice versa. We will call it a change of pace! The thematic answers:
- 3D [Manual transmission] STICK SHIFT
- 9D [Husband of a fabled storyteller, in an L. Frank Baum title] FATHER GOOSE
- 24D [One on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list] PUBLIC ENEMY
- 31D [Ship’s bow decoration … and, literally, the first word of 3-, 9-, and 24-Down] FIGUREHEAD
So we have STICK FIGURE, FATHER FIGURE, and PUBLIC FIGURE as our hidden meanings. Nice and tight; a great theme for an easier Tuesday. 3.9 stars today.
Just a few notes:
- 36A [Upscale chocolate brand] GODIVA – Getting hungry again …
- 48A [Immune system component] T-CELL – I had some sort of t-cell lymphoma a few years ago. I don’t remember the full medical name of the exact cancer my tumor was. I am sure something is wrong with my immune system. Gotta get flu shots now!
- 52A [Miss Teen USA contest, e.g.] PAGEANT – Alternate clue: [One of Trump’s specialties]! (That’s worded poorly; and intended to be amusing only!)
- 33D [1990s Philippine president] RAMOS – Who? I remember Marcos and Aquino, not this fella!
- 51D [Old Nigerian capital] LAGOS – Officially Abuja became the capital in 1991. I actually did not know this! Crosswords are educational!
Hope you all have a great week. See you this weekend!
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 256), “What’s the BIG Idea?”—Janie’s review
Well, the answer to that question is that the first word of all five theme phrases (including two grid-spanners) can be preceded by the word BIG to create another stand-alone phrase. This is a perfectly fine theme—one we see a lot. So if it’s not the newest idea to come down the pike, it is nonetheless decidedly distinguished by that theme set, which is rich and wide-ranging and is just what’s needed to make the gimmick land fresh. Which it does. With finesse.
- 17A. APPLE PIE À LA MODE [Two-desserts-in-one diner order]. And a two-in-one answer since we get NYC’s “BIG APPLE” moniker in the package.
- 24A. BEN AFFLECK [“Argo” director and star]. Cinema’s BEN also does double-duty, sharing his given name with London’s BIG BEN.
- 38A. BLUE FLU [Police precinct sickout]. I don’t like that sickouts occur where public safety is concerned, but I sure like BLUE FLU as fill. Its companion phrase? IBM’s nickname: BIG BLUE.
- 50A. “DEAL WITH IT!” [“Just solve the problem!”]. Love the snarky clue/fill combo and am equally delighted with (what is usually) the snarky put-down: “BIG DEAL!”
- 61A. “MONEY FOR NOTHING” [Dire Straits hit with a cameo appearance by Sting]. While I am familiar with Sting, have zero acquaintance with this title or (to my knowledge) Dire Straits (though I do know them by name…). But it’s a terrific title and brings us to a phrase we hear a lot these days: BIG MONEY.
Forgoing a reveal within the grid itself adds a bit of a challenge, too—which I take as an asset. Other assets? For starters, that longer fill, which fairly sparkles: EMPTY SUIT, the [Ineffective executive]; PILATES—though these days I’m opting for the yoga myself…; HALF-FULL, which I’m lovin’, especially in combination with its clue, [Glass contents, to an optimist]; LOW-IN-FAT, because I’m reminded that a glass of the clue’s 1% milk might go nicely with some APPLE PIE À LA MODE. Yes? No? “YOU DECIDE!” <RIMSHOT!>
Clues like [Church keys?] for ORGAN and [Home companion?] for HOUSE also keep us on our toes. The pic at the left should clarify the former; and as for the latter, forget the home health-care AIDE and think more along the lines of the parent complaining about the appetite of his/her growing offspring: “I swear that child will eat us out of HOUSE and home!” Oh—and enjoyed the [Sound of the West] PUGET team. No “GIDDY-UP!” or “WHOA, BOY!” here, but a shout-out to the Pacific Northwest’s PUGET Sound. And while we regularly see the words HAG and OGRE in puzzles, I found today’s clues (especially in combination) to be particularly fresh and evocative: to wit, [Folklore witch] and [Fantasy fiend]. Ditto the LUAU [Poi-and-salmon party] pairing. “Old” fill with “new” clues –> always appreciated!
And I’ll leave it to you to comment on other SALIENT [Noteworthy] fill or clues I may not have touched on, but I trust we’re in SYNC about the strengths of today’s puzz. So, keep solving—and along those lines… here’s a link to a bonus from Liz, who was commissioned to create a special puzzle commemorating One World Trade Center. The puzz appears in a newly released “biography” of the building by author Judith Dupré. (Liz suggests that you may want to view this after solving.) Enjoy—and see you next week!
Jason Mueller’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Fauxval Office” — Jim’s review
Our theme today is actors who have played fictional presidents.
- 17a [He played the president on “The West Wing”] MARTIN SHEEN. President Josiah Bartlet.
- 27a [He played the president in “Air Force One”] HARRISON FORD. President James Marshall.
- 43a [He played the president in “Dr. Strangelove”] PETER SELLERS. President Merkin Muffley (among other roles).
- 57a [He plays the president on “Scandal”] TONY GOLDWYN. President Fitzgerald Grant III.
Two films, two TV shows. Three huge names, one (the last one) not-nearly-as-well-known. Three I wrote in immediately, one I had to wait for the crosses. No women.
Like yesterday, I’m just not feeling this puzzle. We get a list of four actors playing fictional presidents, but why these? There’s no apparent connection between them. And the list of actors who have played presidents (fictional or otherwise) is extensive. I won’t list more names here, but you can check out BuzzFeed’s Top 25.
I recognize TONY GOLDWYN‘s face, but would not have ever known his name. He has nowhere near the level of fame as the others. Why not go with KEVIN SPACEY—a much bigger name on par with the others and also on a current TV show (House of Cards) and also 11 letters?
Better yet, why not include at least one of the women who have taken on a presidential role. Sadly JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS is 17 letters, but GEENA DAVIS, TEA LEONI, SHARON STONE, or ALFRE WOODARD would fit.
In short, the theme is much too loose. It’s perfectly fine in and of itself, but those of us who look at puzzles everyday have come to expect a theme to be much, much tighter. Find some connection between the actors or roles. Make a theme of just women, or just presidents who’ve been parodied on SNL, or actors who’ve played Nixon (for example).
In compensation for the theme though, the rest of the puzzle is wonderful. We get some great non-theme fill in BEETHOVEN, METEORITE, MISTLETOE, and CRUELLA, along with ALLEGHENY, ECUADOR, PLATEAU, BREATHE, and POSEUR.
My favorite clue is 56a‘s [Eccentric’s heir, perhaps] for PET, although I put in CAT at first.
There’s the usual crosswordese of course, the hardest being RUHR, ULM, and RONDO, but they’re all very gettable. EEE is always clued as [Wide shoe size]. Sure would be nice if there was some other way to clue that or leave it out altogether.
And that’s all for today. Not the strongest theme, but it was quick, and the rest of the puzzle shone in contrast.
Patrick Blindauer’s website puzzle — “Awardplay” — Matt’s review
A 17×17 from Patrick this month (his site is here; select “Play” for the puzzle), which I finished in a Barkinesque 6:45. This is because I recently had occasion to clue EGOT and so read its Wikipedia page, making most of the theme entries a breeze:
18-A [Knighted British actor (1904-2000) with an “EGOT” (and one of only 12 people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony in competitive categories)] = JOHN GIELGUD
34-A [Puerto-Rican actress (born 1931) with an EGOT] = RITA MORENO. Google Image search her for the healthiest-looking 85-year-old you’ve ever seen.
39-A [American composer, orchestrator, and conductor (born 1938) with an EGOT] = JONATHAN TUNICK. The only one I’ve never heard of. Related to crossword writer Barry Tunick? Maybe.
50-A [American comedienne (born 1955) with an EGOT] = WHOOPI GOLDBERG
60-A [American actress (1900-1993) with an EGOT] = HELEN HAYES
77-A [German-born, American director (1931-2014) with an EGOT] = MIKE NICHOLS.
So I’m just now seeing that this one has a meta: at the top of the Across Lite file we see: “NOTE: This puzzle’s final answer has 8 letters.” Guess I’m live-blogging it, eh?
What’ve we got? There are six theme entries, so it seems unlikely that they would spell out the eight-letter answer. But there’s also a lot of theme, so not sure how he would pack in a meta around it. Let me stare at it for a while.
OK, I see that there are a bunch of non-EGOT award winners in the downs, each having “Award” in their clue: MEG Ryan, T.S. ELIOT, Gregory PECK, ICE-T, IGOR Stravisnky, Howard ASHMAN, and PELE. But there are only 7, which is odd since it’s an eight-letter answer. Taking the first letter of each surname yields REPTSAP, the first letter of each first name yields MTPIIAP, and the first of each award gives us ANAGSOL. Nothing there.
OK, sadly I have to cheat on this meta since I didn’t realize we had one and didn’t allot time for it this morning. Too bad, since it’s nice: the solution page at Patrick’s site tells me that we have to look at the crossings of these 7 downs with the original six theme entries; those eight letters spell, in order, meta answer E GOT GAME, a play on the Denzel Washington movie “He Got Game.” See circled letters in the solution grid at right.
Fun, and wish I’d been able to put the proper time into the meta now. Deprived myself of an a-ha moment! D’oh. 4.35 stars.
Jeff Chen’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Class Is In Session” —Ade’s write-up
Hello, everybody! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Jeff Chen, involves the first three theme entries being multiple-word answers in which the final word, in its own way, relating to a phrase using the word “school,” with FINISHING SCHOOL, the fourth theme entry, acting as the reveal (56A: [Where social graces are taught…and, with “of,” a hint to the ends of 17-, 28-, and 44-Across])..
- PSYCHEDELIC ROCK (17A: [Grateful Dead genre])
- SWEDISH FISH (28A: [Chewy candy that’s often red]) – Man, when I was younger, so many people at my school were almost addicted to those candies.
- DEEP THOUGHT (44A: [Chess-playing computer])
So who else putting in “Larry” instead of SHEMP, causing a hangup for a few seconds in the Northwest (1A: [Brother of Moe and Curly])? Liked the whole name of ELI WHITNEY in the grid instead of just adding the crossword-friendly first name only (30D: [Man famous for his gin]). Can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen or heard SCRY before doing today’s puzzle (35A: [Predict the future using a crystal ball, e.g.]). Let’s just say that it’s been a while. I know that en dash is upset that its cousin EM DASH was featured today (6D: [Symbol for a break]). I’ve noticed in my sports articles that I write that I use em dashes a lot! Maybe “en dash” or “hyphen” will get some love as fill in a later grid. Seeing THIS IS IT reminded me that I was supposed to see that music documentary with a friend in theaters when it came out, but never got that chance (9D: [Michael Jackson song released in 2009]). Looks like I’ll have to add that to the many, many things I need to watch online but never get to.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: FAB (56D: [Michigan’s “___ Five” of NCAA Basketball]) – If you’re a sports fan, and you’re not able to name each of the members of the University of Michigan’s FAB Five team from the 1992 and 1993 seasons, then you can’t really be a sports fan! The quintet of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all entered Ann Arbor as highly-recruited freshman in 1991, and the five ended up starting together as the Wolverines made the national championship game in both 1992 and 1993, losing on both occasions to Duke and North Carolina respectively. Because of NCAA sanctions involving benefits received by Webber while still in college, those appearances in the Final Four are officially vacated.
See you at the top of the hump on Wednesday!