Ned White and George Barany’s New York Times crossword, “Sack Time”—Amy’s write-up
The black squares in the center of the grid look like a rather uncomfortable bed, and the theme answers pertain to beds. COVER STORY, PILLOW TALK, and BLANKET STATEMENT all start with things that are found on a bed. There’s a SLEEPOVER at 49a, SAW LOGS on top of the bed, a MONSTER right under the bed, and a DUST BUNNY below that. Then CAME DOWN IN SHEETS and MESSAGE PAD have some bedding at the end of the phrase, unlike the first three themers. (Does anyone call a mattress pad anything but a mattress pad? I never hear it called just a PAD.) Then there’s “AND SO TO BED,” clued as the end of a generic diary entry rather than one by Samuel Pepys, which feels a little weird. Also weird: the interposition of SPELEOLOGY, ADD TO THE MIX, TWO-POINTERS, and TATE MUSEUM as Across answers that are longer than many of the theme entries. Weirder still: calling any of the four Tate institutions in England the TATE MUSEUM. That’s really not “in the language,” not among anyone who follows art or England.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of 93a. [“___ on Cards,” classic 1949 book], SCARNE. If I have, it was in a previous crossword, and I promptly forgot it as dated, irrelevant, and useless in my life. Also didn’t know a tap handle was called a BEER PULL; now, that’s something I don’t mind learning.
Crosswordese red alert: ALETA! ONER! IN E! -ULE! SIB! LST! Maybe AS ONE as a stand-alone phrase?
Can the plural OKRAS be used? I see a couple dictionaries define okra as “the green pods of …,” which suggests that a whole bunch of okra is still okra, and not okras. (Cueing Martin H with a “there are multiple kinds of okra, and you could talk about them as okras” defense” in 3, 2, 1…)
Who among us would drink a CATSUP ICEE? Anyone? Icee … I SEE IT (which feels contrived as an entry), I READ YOU … “See Me, Feel Me.”
Heaven help you if you don’t know your current sports/reality TV names or your 62-year-old movie musicals, because if you don’t, that CYD/ODOM crossing in the center right may knock you out. There’s another ODOM of note besides Lamar Odom—Leslie Odom, Jr. of Hamilton/Tony Awards Best Actor fame. I bet he’ll break out into bigger TV/film fame soon.
3.6 stars from me.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post Crossword, “Tool Time” – Jenni’s writeup
I was relieved to discover that this doesn’t have anything to do with Tim Allen’s show-within-a-show from “Home Improvement.” Each theme answer is a name or phrase that includes a tool, clued as if it were a wacky implement.
- 23a [Carpentry tools for comedian Mac?] = BERNIE SANDERS.
- 33a [Carpentry tool for a techie?] = WIRELESS ROUTERS.
- 32d [Carpentry tools for a pilot?] = SKYSCRAPERS.
- 48d [Carpentry tool for someone on Earth?] = GROUND LEVELS.
- 58a [Carpentry tool for a speaker?] = MC HAMMER.
- 72a [Carpentry tool for a pyromaniac?] = FIRE DRILL.
- 82a [Carpentry tool for an attorney?] = CASE FILE.
- 106a [Carpentry tool for a French mathematician?] = CARTESIAN PLANE.
- 122a [Carpentry tool for Don Ho?] = HAWAIIAN PUNCH.
Solid, consistent, and amusing theme. I like the variation in length – the shorter theme answers were pleasant little surprises in the middle of the grid.
A few other things:
- 4d [Gets the hell out, say?] = CENSORS. This made me giggle.
- 37d [Christmas dish] = HAM. I put YAM in at first and didn’t change it until my review of the grid to see what was wrong. I had no idea what SYARK was, but apparently I thought it was a word.
- 111d [Prepared, as fish or corsets] = BONED. Nice.
- 92d [California valley that sounds like a greeting] and 102a [Frame side that sounds like a toast topping] are OJAI and JAMB respectively. I like this.
- 126a [Doolittle taught by Professor Higgins] = ELIZA. I wonder when Eliza Schuyler Hamilton will replace Eliza Doolittle in our cultural (or at least crossword) consciousness.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there’s a senior writer for ESPN.com named RAMONA Shelburne.
Warren Stabler’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Risk Factor”—Andy’s review
Very similar concept to Warren’s last puzzle, in which PRISM was parsed as “PR is M.” Here, “risk” in the title should be parsed as “R is K,” meaning our theme entries replace an R with a K, with hilarity ensuing:
- 22a, STAKING CONTEST [Battle of vampire slayers?]. Staring contest.
- 35a, HOLIDAY CHEEK [“‘Dash away’ yourself, Santa! We’re tired!”?]. Holiday cheer.
- 53a, SNAKE DRUMS [Band of vipers’ rhythm section?]. Snare drums.
- 62/65a, EARNINGS PER SHAKE [With 65-Across, malt shop accountant’s calculation?]. Earnings per share.
- 76a, DAYS OF YOKE [Time when all farms used plow-pulling oxen?]. Days of yore.
- 92a, FISHING SPEAK [Angler’s slang?]. Fishing spear.
- 109a, COKE CURRICULUM [Soda jerk’s course of study?]. Core curriculum.
- 16d, SEND UP A FLAKE [Satirize the screwball?]. Send up a flare.
- 58d, RAKE PAINTING [Portrait of a libertine?]. Rare painting. This one’s my least favorite; I don’t love “rare painting” as a base phrase.
The execution of this theme was fine, though I didn’t find the results particularly funny. There was a lot of theme material; there’s something to be said for cramming 9 themers into a 21×21 grid. The surrounding fill was fairly solid if a bit fusty (SAK, ULE, and the partial USE AS weren’t great, but also AERIAL was clued as [Passé reception aid], there was a HOSS reference for good measure when HUTS would have sufficed, APS was clued as [H.S. VIPs], which I guess must mean Assistant Principals?, MID was clued as [Central beginning] which I’m still a bit confused about, etc.), but PANDA CAM was a bright spot.
OK BY ME. Until next time!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s CRooked crossword, “Literary Figures” — pannonica’s write-up
The revealer cuts out the fat, like a ruthless editor: 115a [Theme of the puzzle] SUMMER READING. So: titles of literary works that could be interpreted as having to do with tabulation. Not specifically about adding, as the revealer suggests, but that’d admittedly by tough to stretch out to a full theme in a 21×21 grid.
- 22a. [Tom Clancy novel, with “The”] SUM OF ALL FEARS. Already—with the first theme answer after seeing the revealer—we get a sum duplication. It’s completely understandable though.
- 30a. [Alexander Dumas novel] THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. Includes the the.
- 47a. [Elmer Rice play, with “The”] ADDING MACHINE. Excludes the the.
- 68a. [Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography] TOTAL RECALL. Taking its title from his 1990 film, based on the Philip K Dick story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. But I guess Arnie’s autobiography counts as literature.
- 85a. [Fourth part of the Pentateuch, with “The”] BOOK OF NUMBERS. OK, back to the-peekaboo.
- 100a. [Jennifer L. Armentrout YA novel] THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER. And back in it goes.
So. (minus the, plus the, no the, no the, minus the, plus the) Theme answers are therefore the-neutral! And there’s a kind-of regular pattern. Nevertheless, by my accounting there’s just too much strain on this theme. Dupe of sum-, a celebrity autobiography, the the shenanigans, and the final two themers present generalized mathematics terms rather than the specific aspect that was promised: numbers and problem.
With the theme compromised, I was hoping the rest of the fill would make up the difference, but here too there were a lot of irksome bits. Not that there weren’t good parts too. BEQ is a very talented constructor, after all.
- Probably the toughest crossing is over in the northeast. 14d [Slow down in scores] RITARD and 21a [Trickery] CHICANE. We more commonly see (the non-musical verb) RETARD and CHICANERY. Likewise, the second (superfluous?) suffix -al is shorn from the stacked 24a [Like ClickHole] SATIRIC. Ngram shows a perennial predominance of SATIRICAL. Not one of these words is incorrect, they just play hard.
Gah. Computer crash. Back on this now. had to refill the grid too, so a lot of the subpar fill and dupes are prominent in my mind. Apologies in advance for the negativity.
- But, c’mon, just look: 31d [La-La Land’s state] CALI, 71a [Singsong words] LA LA? That’s pretty egregious, even if these two instances of la la don’t mean quite the same thing. Check out 28d [’44 battle city] ST LÔ and 78d [“The Great” pope] ST LEO. Oof.
- And the grid is positively littered with short, dubious fill. Without being at all thorough I see OTO-, RIF, UIES, ANAT, SWE, I’M TO ([“__ blame”] ?!), DETS. There’s AGUSH, A FIST, and I-realize-it’s-a-lost-cause-but-it-still-irks-me the singular S’MORE and more. (4d, 5d, 27a, 98a, 97a, 67a, 83a, 2d, 29a, 44a)
- 74a [Covers up the gray] REDYES. Am I missing something? How does the clue indicate this and not simply DYES? Sure, it’s included within the greater concept, but it still seems a mismatch.
- 91a [French skunk] LE PEW. A particular, fictional French skunk. Not UNE mouffette (63a).
- 114d [Cutesy ending] POO. I like the meta aspect here.
- 88d [Tennis technique] NET GAME. Is it a technique, or a component?
- Okay, just did a run-through of all the entries. Nothing else I feel compelled to highlight as good, bad, or other.
I don’t get it. This honestly feels like a half-formed theme that was unadvisedly augmented to a full-size crossword when it probably should have been abandoned. It just doesn’t—wait for it—add up.