Jason Flinn’s New York Times crossword—Erin’s write-up
Today’s NYT theme is PLUS ONE, where the theme entries consist of adding an extra to a traditional group of things:
- 17a. [Country that’s an extremely close American ally, so to speak] FIFTY-FIRST STATE
- 24a. [Special perception] SIXTH SENSE
- 36a. [Power source for a subway train] THIRD RAIL
- 50a. [Unwanted tagalong] FIFTH WHEEL
- 59a. [Rant continuation … or a hint to this puzzle’s theme] AND ANOTHER THING
There are 50 states, five senses, etc., so this puzzle plays off adding one more. FIFTY-FIRST STATE is a new term to me, but it dropped right in from the crossings I had. The rest of the themers were common to me, and they are all tied together nicely by the revealer.
The fill is fine overall, if a bit dated in the pop culture department: BRITNEY Spears, LATOYA Jackson, Roger EBERT, Ernie ELS. NIA Long, TED Cruz, and ANTONIN Scalia are more current. It’s nice to see a mix of men and women, including a woman of color, this Wednesday. Nice longer fill includes OFFSIDE, INFUSES, and DASHING. The plural RBIS next to the plural NOS is not ideal, but it’s forgiveable.
Once last thing…why does a Google search for MOM jeans bring up so many pairs for sale? I’ll never understand fashion.
Jacob Stulberg’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Afterglow” — Jim’s review
Jacob Stulberg finds a grid-spanning Beatles song and uses it as the basis for a puzzle. Each word in each two-word phrase can follow the word SUN.
Unannounced meta! Which two non-theme words in the grid can also follow SUN (though they don’t go together)? Answer in the comments.
Theme entries are:
- 17a [*Salt cod, e.g.] DRIED FISH. Sun-dried, sunfish.
- 25a [*It may have a wire frame] LAMPSHADE. Sun lamp, sun shade.
- 46a [*Draw attention to] SPOTLIGHT. Sun spot, sunlight.
- 58a [*Consume reluctantly] CHOKE DOWN. Sunchoke, sundown.
- And the revealer at 36a: [Beatles song, or what both halves of the starred answers might say] I’LL FOLLOW THE SUN
The Beatles were always my first musical love. I spent many hours in the 80s listening to Beatles songs on my Walkman. While other kids plugged in to Def Leppard or Genesis or Madonna, I was always a Beatles guy. So I know most of their songs, including the one featured today. You can be forgiven for not recognizing it, as it was an early song for them (released in 1964, but written by McCartney as early as 1960). It’s a simple but sweet little song with an easy melody and memorable lyrics. The Lennon-McCartney harmonies aren’t as extensive as other songs, but they are certainly effective.
But back to the theme. There isn’t really a conceit to explain why we have two words put together where each of them can follow the word SUN. That’s probably why this type of theme is falling out of favor in many venues. But if you’re willing to accept it, you’ll find a nice puzzle here.
The puzzle played tough for me, so the first themer I revealed was CHOKE DOWN. I then discovered the revealer but couldn’t make sense of it, because I have never heard of a sunchoke. Turns out it’s another name for a Jerusalem artichoke, which is neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke. It’s actually a species of sunflower found in the eastern U.S. and whose roots are edible. Fun fact: the inulin (not to be confused with insulin) they produce cannot be digested, but is metabolized by bacteria in the colon, thereby causing flatulence. You have been warned.
The rest of the grid is very nice with TWIN FALLS, OSCAR NODS, VILLAIN, SPECTRA (which is almost the villainous organization Spectre), DORITO, and HELP ME.
The NE was toughest with 19a RAFER Johnson (1960 Olympics decathlon gold winner) and 10d asking for [“And Then There Were None” multitude] which I took to mean that it wanted a number. My first thought was TEN of course, because the book had the alternative title Ten Little Indians. This may sound offensive, but as I just discovered, it isn’t nearly as offensive as the original book title in the UK which was used until 1985! It is, however, considered to be Christie’s masterpiece. Anyway, the answer to the clue is DEATHS.
A couple clues struck me as off. 29a [Horror movie sounds] should be more than just EEKS, unless the axe murderers are mice. And 56a [Org. sponsoring piece talks?] implies the NRA is open to discussion about guns and gun legislation, though that clearly isn’t the case. However, on second glance, I guess the clue is just referring to talking about guns in general which the NRA certainly does.
Anyhow, I’m partial to this puzzle because of the song it’s based on as well as the fact that it’s cleanly made with plenty of interesting fill.
And now for the song in question:
Aimee Lucido’s AVCX crossword, “Urban Towers” — Ben’s Review
After last week’s puzzle (which was as tricky to write up as it was to solve), t was nice to have an easier puzzle this week from Aimee Lucido. I picked a good week to solve starting with the downs, as that’s where this week’s theme entries were hidden:
- 11D: Had been uncooked? — WAS RAW
- 15D: Hit Senator Franken with a ray gun? — ZAP AL
- 28D: One familiar lil’ crustacean? — AN OLE CRAB
- 31D: Keep the tears in? — NOT SOB
- 45D: “Keep going, feudal fieldhand!” — ON SERF
- 64D: Hathaway’s great-granddaughter, keeping the family name alive? — ANNE IV
- 69D: “Hi, my name is that chat software you used in the ’90s”? — I’M AIM
- 86A: Prince song that begins “She saw me walking down the streets of your fine city,” and a hint to this puzzle’s theme answers — UPTOWN
I’m loving the continued of Prince-inspired crosswords we’re getting this year. 86A proves the key to figuring out the Something Different-style answers for the rest of the theme – they’re all towns pointing up:
- WAS RAW — WARSAW
- ZAP AL — LA PAZ
- AN OLE CRAB — BARCELONA
- NOT SOB — BOSTON
- ON SERF — FRESNO
- ANNE IV — VIENNA
- IM AIM — MIAMI
ON SERF was the first of these answers where my intuition as to these answers was finally enough to get entered into the grid. I quickly saw it formed FRESNO pointing upwards, and that confirmed the rest I had already encountered. Other notes from this puzzle:
- 16A: Potato-and-pea appetizer — SAMOSA (Has everyone seen the Chicken Tikka Seagull yet?)
- 17A: Former “Fashion Emergency” host — EMME (I looked up pictures of Emme, and I still don’t recall her or “Fashion Emergency”)
- 19A: What you get turned into if you don’t find a mate in the 2015 sci-fi film “The Lobster” — ANIMAL (I saw this a few weeks ago, since it’s just now getting a US release, and LOVED it. If Wes Anderson had an evil twin that made dystopian sci-fi comedies, this is the movie he’d make.)
- I didn’t love the crossing of ERA and IRA at 26D/29A
- 31A: Mitchell & ___ (big name in ballcaps) — NESS (All I could think of for this one was Mitchell & Webb, who are bigger names in British comedy than they are ballcaps.)
- 54A: A dozen everythings, say — BAGELS (Loved this clue.)
- 56A: Popular digital library site — SCRIBD (Popular enough that I’ve never encountered it before, but would buy that it’s an online digital library site from the name alone.)
- 76A: Egg white dessert — MERINGUE (I have a recipe for a lemon pavlova with meringue that I am determined to try this summer. It looks so good, y’all.)
- 89A: Dickbag (but politer, cuz England) — PRAT (I had a few things come to mind that were less politer, cuz England. Thankfully, they were not the correct answer)
- 93A: 1990s pop band that covered ABBA songs — A-TEENS (I remember this band. The late 90s was a weird time for radio pop.)
- 8D: “The Future’s Void” musician — EMA (I was convinced this was the name of a Brian ENO album for the longest time this solve, then remembered the EMA album from a few years ago)
- 43D: Animated film franchise since 2002 — ICE AGE (They are still making Ice Age movies, y’all. I don’t recall particularly enjoying the first one. I haven’t been this confused by the continued presence of a film series since finding out they are still making Land Before Time sequels.)
I had a few problems with the fill, but this had a solid theme and some nice entries.
Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Taking Care of Business” —Ade’s write-up
Good afternoon, everyone! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Ms. Donna S. Levin, is all business. Each of the four theme entries is a multiple-word entry in which the final word could also be described as a type of business.
- THREE’S COMPANY (20A: [Sitcom whose theme song began, “Come and knock on our door…”])
- COWBOY OUTFIT (32A: [What Woody wears, in “Toy Story”])
- STANDING FIRM (41A: [Resolute])
- USS ENTERPRISE (55A: [Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s starship])
Why have just one rapper whose far started to rise in the late 1980s, DRE (46A: [N.W.A. cofounder, familiarly]) when two, with the addition of ICE-T, would be just as nice (59A: [“Law & Order: SVU” costar born Tracy Lauren Morrow])?! Thank goodness that I’ve been studying French extensively over the past year, so LUNDI was a gimme for me (29D: [Start of the Parisian workweek]). I don’t think I’ve come across too many GEMINIS who haven’t said that they are two different people/personalities (45D: [Some June arrivals]). I mean, I don’t brag about being a harvest goddess, being a Virgo! I could, you know! OK, maybe not. Can’t say that I’m a bridge expert (far from it), so I’ll take the constructor’s word when reading the clue to MISDEALT (38A: [Delivered 14 cards to a bridge player, e.g.]). Speaking of card games, I haven’t played one in a long time. Might be time to get back into playing. Anyone having a game night anytime soon?!?!
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: NOOR (24A: [Jordanian queen who played hockey for Princeton University]) – Not only was Queen NOOR of Jordan, Princeton Class of 1973, a former member of the hockey team, she was a member of the first women’s hockey team at Princeton University. How about that?!
Thank you for the time, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
The puzzle contains three different, err DIFF’RENT, golf STROKES, spanning across the words in the long acrosses. They’re arranged in the opposite order to what you expect, unless you read them bottom to top. Mr. Wechsler is playing a short par four I’m guessing… A DRIVE to the green, a CHIP onto the green, and then one-PUTTing!
- [“It’s now or never!”], ICANT(PUTT)HISOFF
- [Play the Lute or Grasp the Sparrow], TAI(CHIP)OSITION. Utterly arbitrary answer, saved by a fun clue!
- [Folk ballad also known as “Cowboy Love Song”], REDRIVERVALLEY.Definitive version?
- [Islamic analogue of kosher], HALAL. Spelt with three A’s in South African English…
- [What acupuncture relieves, for some], PAIN. [Sound of can of worms opening]
- [Classroom surprise], POPQUIZ. Great answer! And it doesn’t seem forced, which is even better! It crosses NASDAQ at the Q!
- [“I had a blast!”], ITSBEENFUN. Great answer! Clue feels like it’s missing something. It’s usually used as a farewell in my world…
Theme issues aside, a functional puzzle.
WSJ: The two non-theme words that can follow SUN? RISES and STROKE.
But you would’ve gotten bonus points if you’d phrased it his way: “STROKE and also RISES.”
Congratulations! Enjoy your prize!
There isn’t really a conceit to explain why we have two words put together where each of them can follow the word SUN. That’s probably why this type of theme is falling out of favor in many venues.
First, what about the revealer? Second, what data do you have to suggest this kind of theme is “falling out of favor”–which venues?
Nothing in the revealer necessitates there being two following words in the theme answers. It is this aspect I’m focusing on. It is obviously harder to do than having just one following word per themer and much easier than three, but there’s nothing inherent to the revealer that says there should be two (other than what’s in the clue).
In contrast, look at this one from Susan Gelfand in 2011 and this one from Adam Perl in 2012. In both instances, two following words are required based on the revealing phrases.
I know there are more recent and better examples than this, but this is all I could come up with off the top of my head. I think there was even one recently that had three following words.
As for other venues, I’m mostly talking about the NYT (maybe I shouldn’t have said “many”). I think Will is on record saying before-and-after type themes won’t cut it anymore, unless they are really tight—even doubled ones like today’s WSJ. The arbitrariness of using two preceding or following words is less elegant than if it was fully explained by the revealer, but most people, including me, don’t mind it so much.
As for where Will said this and data to back all this up? I don’t have that on hand and I’m not going to go looking for it.
Jim, thanks for the response and for providing those examples–your critique is much clearer now.
AVCX: I didn’t love the crossing of ERA and IRA at 26D/29A
You’re really bothered about two perfectly good three-letter words crossing?
Oh, yay! A new crank/curmudgeon/borderline troll!
Fair point–I apologize for the tone of my earlier comments.
For the record, I would dispute Ben’s claim for the following reasons: 1) ERA and IRA are both reasonably common short entries; 2) insofar as I could determine, most alternatives to the crossing of ERA/IRA in this puzzle would require less desirable entries; 3) given the restraints in the grid design and theme answer placement, Aimee Lucido did a very nice job with the overall fill around ERA/IRA, including entries like OPERETTA and PEP PILL.
NYT theme: Fifty first state, fifth wheel and sixth sense each describe something “extra” but that don’t really exist. A third rail is a real thing. It’s inconsistent and it annoyed me.
CS: clueing error at 16A. The mythology is Greek, not Roman. [Ares’ mother] by itself would have been sufficient.
In the AV Club xword, as a person of a certain age, the crossing of 8D and 17A left me with better than a 1/26 chance, but not a lot better.
Yes, but my list would be much longer: EMME, VAMP (??), MITCHELL & NESS, OUTKAST, SCRIBD, GRANGER, Prince’s UPTOWN, KEY AND PEELE, ATEENS, EMA, MY HUMPS, and MAURA. Not a prayer to finish even though I liked the gimmick (South to North theme answers).
While we’re calling cluing errors…
LAT: 57D : [Bench press beneficiary] would be more properly clued as [Military press beneficiary] if the answer is to be DELT.
Anterior delts are worked by the bench press. The lifting motion up and down of the arms in the bench press involves the delts even though the lifter is lying flat.
NYT: Not too happy with LYS, which is permitted to be spelled LIS, crossing LATOYA Jackson at the Y. I got it, but the cross of LATOYA should be less ambiguous. Otherwise, an interesting puzzle.