Sam Donaldson’s New York Times crossword, “Shunned” — Amy’s write-up
Sam’s theme takes eight familiar phrases and adds a -TION or -SION (sounding like “shun”), changing the spelling as needed and cluing accordingly:
- 25a. [What’s involved in a tongue twister?], TRICKY DICTION. Tricky Dick Nixon.
- 32a. [Very, very top of the earth’s crust?], DIRT PORTION. Dirt-poor.
- 49a. [First home of the three rich little pigs?], STRAW MANSION. Straw man. Nice one!
- 87a. [Two things the candy lover took to the beach?], SWEET ‘N LOTION. Sweet’N Low. I’m really tired of the whole “suntan lotion” concept. Sunscreen, people!
- 105a. [What an overbearing sergeant causes?], BASE TENSION. Base 10.
- 116a. [What improved tire tread produces?], BONUS TRACTION. (That reminds me, I need new tires.) Bonus track, as on a CD/download with extra songs not on the original release.
- 4d. [The cantina in “Star Wars,” e.g.?], SPACE JUNCTION. Space junk. Just learned (via public radio’s Science Friday) about the potential danger of that Chinese spacecraft that cleans up space junk—if it can eliminate a dead satellite, it can also be used as a weapon to take out a working satellite.
- 59d. [Where they sell accessories at a pet shop?], COLLAR STATION. Collar stay.
Blogging? I am NOT UP TO IT (12d. [Too tired for the task, say]).
- Two names I did not know: 6d. [Onetime Expos/Mets outfielder Chávez], ENDY, and 93d. [“South Pacific” star ___ Brazzi], ROSSANO.
- 73d. [Only state with a nonrectangular flag], OHIO / 54d. [Only country with a nonrectangular flag], NEPAL. Nice vexillological trivia clues!
- 62d. [Kind of truck], LONG BED. Long bed? Yes, please! I am sleepy.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Heads of State” – Jenni’s writeup
Home again, home again. Today’s crossword features a meta that’s tied to the holiday weekend, and my brain is still on vacation so Erin helped me out. Team Fiend is really a team!
The note says “Which man who signed the Declaration of Independence completes this puzzle’s theme?” The theme answers aren’t signaled in any way – they’re the longest Across answers in the puzzle.
- 22a [Mysterious force that cosmologists believe might explain the accelerated expansion of the universe] = DARK ENERGY. Straightforward clue and answer. I wondered if the title meant we were looking at physical states (like matter and energy.) Nope.
- 24a [Venomous vipers] = PUFF ADDERS.
- 39a [To whom Elton John said “goodbye” in “Candle in the Wind”] = NORMA JEAN. The original, not the rewrite he performed at Princess Diana’s funeral.
- 41a [Specialty for a person concerned with their image?] = GRAPHIC ARTS. The first slightly tricky clue.
- 58a [Field of mathematics involving the butterfly effect] = CHAOS THEORY. According to Wikipedia, the butterfly effect is “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” There’s that “state” thing again. Still not relevant to the theme.
- 60a [It’s a part of life] = MIDDLE AGE.
- 75a [ Volcano where the One Ring was forged in “Lord of the Rings.”] = MOUNT DOOM.
- 78a [Rom-com with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts] = NOTTING HILL.
- 92a [Three-star figure] = VICE ADMIRAL. Since I know nothing about the Navy, I entered REAR rather than VICE. Turns out a rear admiral has one star. Got it.
- 97a [“Rockin’ in the Free World” rocker] = NEIL YOUNG. I suspect Evan chose that song because it’s an Independence Day puzzle.
- 109a [Longtime role for David Hyde Pierce] = NILES CRANE. I ran across an old episode of “Cheers” recently and was stunned at how much the young Kelsey Grammer looked like David Hyde Pierce when Frasier started. Separated at birth.
- 113a [Collided with]
= RAMMED INTO.
So there we are. I filled it all in correctly and started hunting for the theme first. Literally “heads of state?” Like kings and queens? No. Something that followed the first word (or “head”) of each answer? No. Something in the middle formed by the confluence of the two words? No. I tried everything *except* what Erin immediately pointed out – the first letters of the two words. That gives us DE, PA, NJ, GA, CT, MA, MD, NH, VA, NY, NC, RI. Those are the postal abbreviations for twelve of the original thirteen colonies. (I always have to remind myself that Vermont was not part of the thirteen; Vermont declared itself a sovereign nation in 1777 and was admitted to the Union in 1791.) The one that’s missing is SC, for South Carolina. Who had the initials “SC” and signed the Declaration of Independence? Mister Samuel Chase of Maryland, that’s who.
A timely and well-executed theme, and a meta that’s entirely do-able to anyone who didn’t leave half her brain on the beach. There’s not much crosswordese despite the density of theme answers.
A few other things:
- 6d [AriZona beverage] = ICED TEA. I shudder when I see this show up in crosswords (or grocery stores) as ICE TEA. That’s just wrong.
- I like the cross-reference of 61d [With 66 Across, rakes in a bar]= LOUNGE LIZARDS. I filled in LIZARDS first and enjoyed the combination.
- 69a gives us the [Animated meerkat] TIMON from The Lion King rather than the titular Shakespeare character. Good choice. I don’t think the Shakespeare play passes the breakfast test if you’ve actually read it.
- Misdirection at 120a [Sonata, Prelude and Concerto] are AUTOS. The upper case letters are a clue. I hadn’t heard of the CONCERTO – turns out it was a late-80s Honda.
What I didn’t know before I did this crossword: that [Gannet peak site] is WYOMING.
And I’ll leave you with a song from 1776, which is what the word RUBICON (15d) always brings to mind for me. John Adams, ladies and gentlemen.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s CRooked crossword, “Sing for Supper” — pannonica’s write-up
We have the revealer right in the center, the belly of the beast. 67-across [Children’s song character who swallowed the things in this puzzle’s theme] OLD LADY. Some versions have it “There was an …” and others “I know an …” Actually, there a quite a number of variations to be had.
The crossword furnishes the menagerie in proper sequence:
- 23a. [Blow a gasket] FLY OFF THE HANDLE.
- 32a. [Creepy crustacean] SPIDER CRAB.
- 50a. [Phrase repeated many times in a Trashmen hit] BIRD IS THE WORD. That’s “Surfin’ Bird”
- 58a. [Crook with upward mobility?] CAT BURGLAR.
- 78a. [Swims on one’s stomach] DOG-PADDLES. Though technically correct, the clue feels as if it should have been better, as it doesn’t effectively characterize the stroke.
- 88a. [Rolling Stones album with “Angie”] GOAT’S HEAD SOUP. The clue’s ANGIE is itself a frequent crossword entry.
- 104a. [Aggie’s school] COW COLLEGE. See dupe at 60d [Dairy cow] GUERNSEY.
- 119a. [America hit, with “A”] HORSE WITH NO NAME.
Impressed, as I said, with the replication of the sequence, as well as the required symmetrical lengths. Minorly disturbed by a couple aspects, though.
- Three of the eight explicitly reference music—and recall that theme itself is a song. It’s a sufficient number to feel like an aborted sub-theme.
- Just one of the eight—SPIDER CRAB—is, in its entirety, an actual animal. Incidentally, the taxonomic group that includes spider crabs includes the largest (but not the most massive) living arthropod (which encompasses all crustaceans (as per the clue)), the Japanese spider crab, Macrocheira kaempferi.
Brief commentary on the song itself: I appreciate that it cautions for tots against the rashness of following through on irrational behavior, the idea of the slippery slope, unintended consequences, and exponentiation. But it does a terrible job of illustrating interspecies trophism (what the utility of ‘catching’ might be here, that’s yet another issue), and even of portraying the relative mass of the organisms (horse > cow, really?).
Speaking of outsize problems, I take issue with 20a [Early geologic period] NEOCENE. First, it was a word I couldn’t recall ever seeing. Turns out to be an obsolete synonym for NEOGENE. Yes, an obsolete variation—the clue indicates neither quality. According to the Google Ngram, it appears unlikely to even have been the earlier coinage. (By the way, 92d [Adapts, as a phrase] RECOINS is rather bad.) The earliest use seems to be in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge (Vol 64, 1840), but no preview is available, and I suspect OCR or some other error. Second, relatively speaking—that is, in geologic terms, it isn’t early at all. The Neogene Period immediately precedes our own Quaternary. In the chart below, realize that the four main columns are chronological. That is, stacked on top of each other.
Here‘s a fancier version that puts it all on an unbroken continuum. The labelling on it is slightly outdated: where it reads “Tertiary” replace that with “Neogene” (Miocene + Pliocene Epochs), as the Neogene comprises the more recent part of the Tertiary.
I, uh, spent a lot of time on that. Sorry. Let’s see what else I can talk about, shall we?
- Longish downs: BE CAREFUL, TEST RUNS, SADDLE UP, VIDEO TAPE, HARDWOODS, GUERNSEY, FEDERALS, GEARWHEEL.
- 68d [Snotty comeback] ARE TOO, 38d [Attitude] SASS.
- New to me: 72d [Russian pop duo marketed as lesbians] TATU (oh, I see it’s t.A.T.u.), 50d [Poor golf shot] BAFF.
- 106d [Hurt with a horn] GORED. Echoes crossword regular, trumpeter AL HIRT.
- 46d [Reactor monitor (abbr.] NRC, 47d [Co. secret protector] NDA, 118d [Army E-5, e.g.] NCO. BONUS! 39d [Leaker Snowden] EDWARD.
- Random typographical mystery, probably an artifact of converting to .puz format: 85a [““La Isla __”” (Madonna tune)] BONITA. Compare to the themer just below it at 88-across, without double double quotation marks.
- Speaking of doubled punctuation, 87a [One with a black eye?] PEA almost seems as if it could benefit from a second question mark. One for the pun, one to acknowledge that black-eyed peas are in fact beans.
- Favorite clue? I think? 5d [Reviewers of Bills] REFS. … [scans puzzle] … Yep, favorite clue.
In all, despite that geological philippic, and personal issues relating to the virtues of the song itself, I liked this crossword rather a lot.
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up
Good morning, all! Today’s puzzle, brought to us by Martin Ashwood-Smith, is a departure from the grids that MAS usually produces for Sunday Challenges. Then again, this is much more than just a crossword puzzle. We lost two of the giants in the world of crosswords and crossword constructing last year, Merl Reagle and Henry Hook, and in the grid today, MERL AND HENRY RIP can be read diagonally, starting from the Northwest corner of the grid. To have TRUE TO THE LETTER seamlessly intersect the diagonal was another very nice touch (34A: [Like a correctly solved crossword]). They were two men who made puzzle solving, particularly on Sundays, extra special. I have yet to construct a crossword, but I’m sure many who do would say that they owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Reagle and Mr. Hook for their pioneering work, and MAS does a real good job with this tribute, which I definitely did not notice at the first time of asking.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: EUROPEAN (55A: [Pole, for one]) – Sadly, for fans of Poland, their run in the EUROPEAN Championships ended earlier this week in the quarterfinals after their loss in penalty kicks to Portugal. Besides, who cares about that when our favorite Cinderella story, Iceland, is still alive in the tournament?!?! It’s estimated that eight percent of the entire population of Iceland is in France following the soccer team. Speaking of Iceland and France, those two nations will be playing later today for a spot in the semifinals.
Have a great rest of your Sunday, everybody!
Mark McClain’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “First Cuts”—Andy’s review
They say that the first cut is the deepest, but there’s nothing particularly deep about this puzzle’s theme. All the theme answers begin with a type of SAW [A kind of one appears in this puzzle’s seven longest answers]:
- 27a, COPING STRATEGY [Something to deal with?]. Cute clue.
- 42a, TABLE TENNIS [Olympic sport since 1988]. Are we sure Will Shortz didn’t write this puzzle?
- 67a, BAND CONCERT [Music in a shell]. This kind of shell, not this kind of shell.
- 96a, SCROLL WHEEL [Mouse feature]. You know which kind of mouse.
- 115a, CONCRETE OBJECT [More than an idea]. Also More Than A Feeling.
- 14d, CHAIN REACTION [Domino effect]. When Domino’s reacts to customer feedback, are they having a pizza chain reaction? Is it the Domino’s Effect?
- 56d, CIRCULAR LOGIC [Begging the question]. “Begging the question” does not mean “inviting the question,” which is how many people use it.
Not as much wordplay as we usually get from the LAT Sunday, but the theme is well done. CONCRETE OBJECT is my least favorite of theme answers; the rest are all fine examples of SAW + WORD = PHRASE.
The symmetrical NAYSAYER and I’LL GET IT are lovely entries. The fill is very clean, which you’d expect from a 144-word Sunday with 7 theme answers. There are no trouble spots, which meant that this one played exceptionally easy. If there’s one dim spot, it’s that ALER is in the puzzle–maybe eventually ALER will reverse osmose into cultural consciousness and we’ll look silly for ever doubting its phrasiness. SFCS was new to me, but the crossings are all good. I’ll never get used to BEDEW. Maybe if I just slip it into casual conversation, it’ll stop seeming so foreign. “Excuse me, I have to go home and BEDEW my plants.”
That’s all from me. Until next week!