Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme is booze served over ICE: The booze portions of SCOTCH TAPE, HOUSE OF BOURBON, and TEQUILA SUNRISE appear above circled ICE in the grid. The revealer is 56a. [How this puzzle’s three drinks have been served?], ON THE ROCKS. People order tequila and bourbon on the rocks? (I don’t. I don’t do Scotch on the rocks either, but it sounds familiar enough.) More importantly: Gotta ding the theme for using a cocktail in which TEQUILA is nothing other than the spirit, whereas 17a and 28a use the booze names in non-booze contexts. Either all three are drinks, or all three are not drinks. Two of one + one of the other = fail.
Four more things:
- 9d. [Bottom-feeding fish known formally as the morwong], SEA CARP. Not a great entry, because what American solvers know this? Here’s a recipe from Australia for whole morwong in banana leaf. Step one, you’re gonna want to get yourself a jackass morwong.
- 1d. [Word repeated in [“What’s ___ is ___”], DONE. No, sorry, the answer is PAST. I say “what’s done is done.”
- 45d. [Mr. ___, host of “Fantasy Island”], ROARKE. I was never keen on the non-Rourke spelling, but I sure did love watching this show. And now they can’t remake it because HBO’s Westworld has beaten them to that turf.
- 40d. [“___ Squad” (2016 hit movie)], SUICIDE. Okay, it’s nice that there’s a movie clue option here, but my god, SUICIDE is a terrible word to include in a crossword puzzle. If it reminds you that life is not worth living and you are thinking of hurting yourself, please do reach out for help. We honestly do all want you to stay here with us, and you can get assistance from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if you’re in the States. The world honestly would not be a better place without you.
Three stars from me.
Harold Jones’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Secret Santa” — Jim’s review
I didn’t find any Secret Santas hiding in the grid. Near as I can tell, the only thematic elements are the two-word long Acrosses that begin HO- HO-. We’re told as much at 52d [Santa sound, and a hint to the puzzle’s theme] with the answer being HOHO.
Now, I don’t know how Christmas is done where you are, but where I am, Santa’s sound is usually “HO HO HO.” To me, a HO HO is a Hostess snack cake. Or else it’s the monkey friend of Nick Jr.’s Kai-lan.
Regardless, our long Across entries each start out with a couple of HOs.
- 17a [Keep for ransom] HOLD HOSTAGE. Fine entry. In the language.
- 27a [Underground residences in Tolkien’s Shire] HOBBIT HOLES. As a Tolkien fan since my teenage years, I love this one.
- 45a [Tree in the birch family] HOP HORNBEAM. I was willing to give the one-HO-shy theme a pass until I got to this one. This doesn’t seem like something most people would know.
- 57a [Residence used at Christmas] HOLIDAY HOME. This doesn’t sound much in the language either. How many people have a house they just use for the holidays?
The theme answers are missing HOs and yet there are extras in the grid in OHO, AHOY, and HOW—two of them in the little NW corner. Both of these seem like they could’ve easily been avoided with a little bit of reworking.
So I’m not sure what’s going on here. In a word, this seems sloppy. The theme feels inadequate, and the presence of non-theme HO pairs feels inelegant, especially when they could easily be avoided.
A couple of other things reduced the entertainment factor as well. The clue for RACIAL [Like some profiling], was a downer. IN A POD at 63a is terrible fill and the clue [Place for peas] doesn’t seem right. The place for peas is a pod; it’s not IN A POD. And by the time I figured out that 5d‘s [Jai alai arenas] was a word I’d never heard of (FRONTONS), I was no longer interested.
I did like 10d‘s SLEUTHS with its tool-related clue [Hammer and Spade]. (That’s Mike Hammer and Sam Spade, by the way.) Also nice is 30d‘s “LOOKIT!” [“Pay attention,” informally]. And the clue for 65a [Stocking stuffer] got me good, especially since the real answer, TOY, shares the first two letters of my initial answer TOE.
But the bad vibes I got from the theme were too much to overcome, and the puzzle ultimately left me feeling flat.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 290), “Jolly Old Elf’s Feminine Side”—Janie’s take
What a wonderfully unconventional, subtle approach to a Christmas puzzle this is. I solved without looking at the title for a hint to the theme, and really had no idea either that it was a dedicated holiday puzzle or what the theme might be. It all became clear, though, when I hit the reveal at 65A. [Annual visitor whose feminine side is found at the starts of four horizontal answers] SANTA. Can you say “Aha moment”? Because the themers name four living women by their first and last names, each a standout in her field, and each with a first name that can be preceded by Santa, thereby giving us the name of a location in California (other places, too, but all four show up there). Great dames + geography + Christmas? Sweet!
- 16A. MARIA BARTIROMO [TV host and Global Markets editor at Fox Business News]. Santa Maria.
- 27A. MONICA SELES [Tennis legend with nine Grand Slam singles titles]. Santa Monica.
- 45A. ANA GASTEYER [“SNL” alum known for her impressions of Martha Stewart and Celine Dion]. And she has a decent track record on Broadway to boot. Santa Ana (it’s not just “winds“…).
- 57A. BARBARA WALTERS [Noted TV journalist who is mentioned in Brad Paisley’s “Celebrity”]. Santa Barbara (at one time, also an eponymous soap opera).
And the remainder of the fill ain’t too shabby neither. In fact, it’s loaded with top-notch mid-range goodies. Love IN THE CAN, which has everything to with film-making [Wrapped up, to a film director] (like [“The Ten Commandments director Cecil] DE MILLE), and nothing to do with the loo; love its grid-opposite, LOTHARIO [Casanova]. The word MANIFEST is a beaut, though I’m not so keen on its kinda dry clue [Cargo list] (a “Destiny” connection mighta been livelier); and so is its grid partner LIBATION, clued with a tip o’ the hat to the holiday season with [Rum-spiked eggnog, for one].
(Speaking of the holiday season, we get other bonus entries with [Ring like silver bells] and PEAL, [“The Gift of the Magi” and the like] for STORIES, and [“I WISH It Could Be Christmas Everyday”].)
But back to those other mid-rangers… Nary a weak link, imho: the colloquial “WANNA BET?” in response to [“Are you sure about that?”]; INFINITI, the wisely-branded [Nissan luxury line]; UP A TREE, literally, with [Trapped in branches]; BARRIER, DE MILLE, STORIES, INHIBIT, BANDANA, PHASE IN and AMHERST clued in connection with another (long-deceased) standout-in-her-field, as [Emily Dickinson’s Massachusetts hometown]. That a lotta great stuff, folks, and rather a nice gift to us solvers from Mz. Liz, no?
Any Jeopardy! fans out there? I’m gonna venture a guess that the answer is “yes”… Me, I love the game, but am not Alex TREBEK‘s biggest fan. He spends a lotta time “acting” the clues and (to my ears) patronizing contestants when they answer correctly. A little less of that and I suspect there’d be more completed rounds (which is, no doubt, why so many of the champions plow through the niceties to get in as many “answers and questions” as they can). That said… He’s also a class act. The story of this champion is a killer-diller and has given me a whole new respect for and way of seeing the show. What a woman. What she faced and the courageous way she faced it puts a lotta things in perspective. At this time of the year especially. Good health, manageable health is a blessing indeed. Even in these uncertain times—especially in these uncertain times?—counting our blessings may not be the worst thing. Doesn’t take the place of getting involved (on some level), but it’s a good place to start.
Okay, lemme get off my soap-box. And apologies if I’ve gone on too long. But lemme also add: Happy HannuKwanzMas!! Keep solving, give the gift of solving and hope to see you back here next week!
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Four on the Floor” – Derek’s write-up
Dove into this one before reading the title. Then I noticed the circles near at the end of four long down answers, then I knew something was a little different. And I was right! The circles all contain alphabetic sequences, which could not have been an easy theme to find four symmetrical examples of! Here they are, from left to right:
- 30D [Item that plays “Soul Meets Body,” for short?] DEATH CAB CD
- 5D [“I’m here so I can greet you … not!”] CAME BY TO SAY HI; JK! (J.K. for just kidding!)
- 9D [“You really think zen master is on my list of attributes?!”?] DO I REMAIN CALM? NO!
- 11D [“Birdman” director’s Beetle, e.g.?] INNARITU VW
This is pretty clever, and I am sure if I sat and brainstormed for a week or two I probably couldn’t come up with anything better than these four. Very cleanly done, and having the theme answers go down instead of across allows for a clever title as well. 4.5 stars!
- 14A [Short pants?] TROU – Nobody says “trou” in Indiana!
- 20A [Cut ties with, on social media] UNFRIEND – I have had to unfriend a few folks in my day!
- 24A [Lane who sang with Xavier Cugat] ABBE – I don’t know who either of these people are! This page explains a little more about her/them. Evidently they were married!
- 34A [Buccaneers’ bay] TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Bucs almost beat those darn Cowboys last night. Cowboy fans are the worst!
- 49A [Cutty __ (Scotch whisky)] SARK – I don’t drink this stuff. Maybe I should try it!
- 3D [Strange sport?] GOLF – This one took me a second: it’s a reference to golfer Curtis Strange. No relation to Dr. Strange, I don’t believe!
- 46D [Political org. from 962 to 1806] HRE – As in the Holy Roman Empire. Remember learning a lot about this in my Social Studies classes in middle school! I think part of what I remember is that Popes had a lot more power back then.
As usual, a fun puzzle by Matt! Have a great week!
Jacob Stulberg’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
After the first two theme entries were filled in, I thought I had a good idea what the theme was, since they shared the same five letters, just in a different order. Boy was I wrong! But I was close:
- 17A [Began without hesitation] DOVE RIGHT IN
- 27A [Was heedless behind the wheel] DROVE RECKLESSLY
- 43A [Mentioned earlier] ABOVE-REFERENCED
- 57A [Unseemly disclosure of personal details … as seen in 17-, 27- and 43-Across?] OVERSHARING
Not too complicated, so maybe I was over-thinking it! It is a Tuesday puzzle after all, so we don’t want it too complicated. Nice easy solve. 3.9 stars.
A few notes:
- 1A [Prepare for a bodybuilding competition] OIL UP – I don’t know how I feel about this. Let’s just say I have never done it!
- 14A [Capital of Bangladesh] DHAKA – Trivia: Did you know Bangladesh is more populous than Russia? Why aren’t THEY an Olympic powerhouse!
- 33A [Actor Ving of “Pulp Fiction”] RHAMES – I liked him in the Mission Impossible movies too!
- 62A [Nick of “Cape Fear”] NOLTE – Talk about crossword famous!
- 3D [Geological Hawaiian souvenir] LAVA ROCK – I’ve been to the big island of Hawaii. Didn’t bring back a lava rock, though! More interested in the fresh pineapple!
- 6D [“Around the World …” hero Phileas] FOGG – His name isn’t Phineas!
- 25D [A Gabor sister] EVA – Eerie timing with the recent death of Zsa Zsa Gabor on Sunday
- 31D [Rapper West] KANYE – 2020 presidential candidate … ?!
I’m done. It’s freezing cold here in northern Indiana!
Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post Crossword, “Mixed Metaphors” —Ade’s write-up
Hello there, everyone! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Tony Orbach, was definitely one of the more enjoyable theme entries I came across in 2016. In it, each of the them entries are anagrams, derived from the letters that form the word “metaphors,” literally making the theme answers mixed metaphors.
- STAMP HERO (17A: [Revered philatelist?])
- SPA MOTHER (21A: [Maternal figure at a fitness resort?])
- PHO MASTER (27A: [Vietnamese soup expert?])
- THAMES PRO (50A: [London river authority?])
- HOPS TAMER (60A: [Brewery controller?])
- MARSH POET (66A: [Wetland writer?])
I almost went to the end of my solving experience without being 100 percent sure of what was happening with the theme entries. Thank goodness I took a last glimpse – also my first glimpse – at the title of the grid. Always pays to look at the title, right? I think there wasn’t any music-related entries in Tony’s last grid, but that definitely changed with this one, with both SHOALS (8D: [“Muscle ______” (2013 documentary featuring Alabama studio musicians The Swampers]) and MOTOWN in the grid (43A: [“Standing in the Shadows of ______” (2002 documentary featuring Detroit studio musicians The Funk Brothers]). Pretty fun grid to do, even if it took me almost all the time in solving to figure out what was going on.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: LAX (25A: [Loosey-goosey]) – Going to have to go real short with this one, as LAX is the recognized abbreviation for the game of lacrosse. What should happen one day is that there should be a spectacle of the best lacrosse players in the U.S. playing games at LAX, the airport. That would be amazing!
See you at the top of the hump on Wednesday!
WSJ – It’s HO HO HO where I am, too. Like Jim, I was looking for hidden Santas. At 17a I saw OLD HOST and thought OLD GHOST? But that didn’t make sense. Then 19a gave me [JOLLY] OLD ELF. But that broke down at BOA and HOBBIT HOLE.
Without HO HO I’d still be working on that birch tree.
I really wanted 57a to be HOLIDAY HOTEL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCplTpK0J6s
I could accept a WSJ puzzle with HO HO for Santa as “meh,” with the extra HOs in the grid as slightly inept at that. But then it’d sure help if more than one theme entry were an English idiom. Hard to believe they couldn’t have done better with only a little work.
Has there been a day where the five major crossword puzzles were all graded less than 3 stars?
NYT – really surprised it was accepted with “tequila sunrise” as one of the answers. That seems like an automatic deal killer.
Not a big Alex TREBEK fan either. Hate his “Know it all” attitude, especially since he has the correct responses in front of him.
I’ve been following the success of Cindy Stowell on Jeopardy! as well and will be rooting for her sixth win tonight!
I thought the Jonesin’ was pretty impressive.