Peter Collins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Welcome to another edition of “Tuesdays Gonna Tuez”! Wherein vocab like OCALA, EWERS, ISU, ARIL, S-STAR, SYST, BWANA, AEROS (Canadian candy bars, fairly hard to come by in the States), KLINK (kinda dated), crosswordese ARETE, and OTOS are pelted at solvers who might be relatively new to crosswords, perhaps encouraging them to run screaming in the other direction from the Times crossword.
The theme is not, as I had hoped based on GRAB A CAB, “add two letters to the front of an ’80s hit album.” It’s blank-a-blank phrases where the non-“a” words rhyme. We’ve got SNEAK A PEEK, SEAL A DEAL (which sounds entirely unnatural to my ear—”seal the deal” sounds right), GRAB A CAB (which is entirely in-the-language for this city woman), GOT A SHOT, BAKE A CAKE (yes, please), and WROTE A NOTE. Decent enough, simple. Though that SEAL A DEAL sounds off—Richard Simmons’ “Deal a Meal” would have been better in my book.
As a puzzle friend noted on Twitter, the puzzle’s got a skeevy air with the clues/answers for OGLE, LEER AT, CHEAP DATE, and BORDELLOS. You know what sort of vocab I’d sooner see in the puzzle than all the OGLE and LEER action? Seriously, I would prefer BURP and FART to those.
Best fill: TRAVOLTA, U.S. HISTORY, SCOWLS (see paragraph 1!).
Three more things:
- 57a. [Blue-blooded], WELL-BORN. Ick.
- 41a. [Jacob’s biblical twin], ESAU. I’m reading the Book of Genesis in this anagram app called IBBLE. (The app developer, Counterwave Games, is run by a puzzle acquaintance. They’ve also got OMBY, in which I finally finished Moby-Dick, and the new OKBOS, which has nine classic novels in the same anagram-game format.) Anyway! I just read Chapter 27 of Genesis and learned that Esau got totally scammed and ripped off by his rat-fink brother Jacob. Maybe Jacob goes on to redeem himself, but at this point he seems like a terrible guy to name your kid after. (Don’t fill me in on the rest of the Jacob story. I don’t want biblical spoilers!)
- 54d. [Noted berry farm founder Walter], KNOTT. Seems like a hard clue if you didn’t go to the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park as a kid and pan for gold flakes and never, ever forgot it. I’m picking [Noted berry farm founder Walter] for most hilariously out-there clue of the week—and it’s only Monday night!
3 stars from me with all the debits for the clunky fill dropped on Tuesday solvers.
Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 310), “Taster’s Choice”—Janie’s take
And what do we get to taste? As we learn at 57D. (with perhaps tmi…), that’d be an assortment of [Boxed WINES (affordable adult beverages…and a hint to the puzzle theme revealed in the circled letters)]. Now affordability may be the heart of the popularity of boxed WINES; but if they aren’t the height of chic, their grid counterparts—those “boxed” WINES throughout the puzz—make for an A+ theme, and one that’s been executed equally well to boot.
On the tasting menu:
BAR/OLO, CLA/RET, RO/SÉ, RIES/LING, SHI/RAZ and (the one-syllabled) PO/RT.
A fine assortment of reds (read here about the red RIESLING…and the blanco SHIRAZ for that matter. [Also learned there’s such a thing a white PORT. Who knew?]). Still… I’m stickin’ with my all-red-all-the-time assessment.
And look at the challenge Liz had in constructing this one. Not only is each WINE variety one with an even number of letters, those letters then get divided in half and are stacked up in the grid. For a constraint that could have led to a lot of compromised fill throughout, this puzzle emerges nearly glitch-free. I’ve never read David Copperfield, but it seems that (crossword standby) DORA isn’t the only woman to have turned David’s head. There was also [Little EM’LY (Dickens character)]. But when “M” and “L” are stacked up that way, as the center of a four letter word… Well, let’s give the gal a warm welcome, shall we? Ditto the HARLEYS her final “Y” crosses. (Was confused by the clue for that at first: [Bikers’ bikes, informally]. Why “informally”? Aren’t HARLEYS “HARLEYS”? “Informally” because they’re HARLEY Davidsons…)
The double “I” configuration dictated by RIES/LING plays out with a Roman numeral (DCIII) and a dreaded three consecutive-“I” pattern. Again, a not-ideal gathering of letters. Still, that final “I” does yeoman’s duty as the first letter of ISTHMI [Narrow land formations that connect continents]. Here are some famous ones (plural can be ISTHMI or ISTHMuses, btw—[This and that] BOTH). Works (really well) fer me—and I do love that consonant cluster. Wow.
Additionally, we get some excellent, well-clued long fill: STATE MOTTO and the timely-as-ever reminder that [“Live Free or Die” is New Hampshire’s]; the musical VIOLIN SOLO, which comes to us by way of a [Cadenza played by Hilary Hahn or Isaac Stern]; the NOBELIST, who may be a [Recipient of a prize in Chemistry or Peace] (among other areas…); and SURNAMES, like those belonging to Daryl and John [Hall and Oates, e.g.].
Among the mid-rangers, PLATTER and HARLEYS stand out, as do CAMERA (cagily clued with [It gets the picture?]), BONSAI, ISTHMI, ADORES, ROARED and the evocative [Laughed heartily], [Milkshake alternative] the MALTED (yum!), MINCES, SATEEN and my favorite pairing: the disdainful [Claptrap] and DRIVEL.
Other cluing highlights: the way [Large serving dish] is followed by
[Miniature Japanese tree] (for PLATTER and BONSAI, respectively); the way I initially misread, continue to misread and continue to smile at the [Lays down the lawn] SODS team (please tell me I’m not the only one who mistook “lawn” for “law”…); and, yes, once again, the [Three-TOED sloth]. Because it’s just so damned cute.
As suggested by the Led Zeppelin song clue, it should be clear I got a […”Whole LOTTA Love”] for this puzz. Am hoping it registered equally well on your own scale for measuring puzzle satisfaction. From where I sit, this one delivers in spades: theme, theme execution, fill, clues. This is the REAL deal. Keep solving. And maybe enjoy your next solve with some SHIRAZ, too. Salut (or your toast-of-choice)!
Maxine Cantor’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Empty Boxes” — Jim’s review
For a puzzle titled “Empty Boxes” there sure is a lot of theme material here. And much of it stacked! Each theme answer is a two-word phrase with the initials M.T. I guess you could say that each corner has stacks of M.T. boxes.
- 13a [Base for some hors d’oeuvres] MELBA TOAST
- 16a [There are a lot of letters in this answer] MAIL TRUCKS
- 37a [Tagalong’s cry] ME TOO
- 56a [Uncanny knack for making money] MIDAS TOUCH
- 60a [“Much obliged!”] MANY THANKS
- 10d [1949 hit for Frankie Lane] MULE TRAIN
- 15d [Indicator of fitness] MUSCLE TONE
- 23d [One who supplies another’s income] MEAL TICKET
- 33a [About 2,205 pounds] METRIC TON
With all that theme material, there’s not a lot of room for flashy fill. We do get DRILL RIG, but I had to give that one the side-eye. It seems like a lesser phrase than “oil rig” or “drilling rig.”
Its grid counterpart is STRICTLY clued as [In an absolute manner], but I would’ve also accepted [Popular BBC dancing show, familiarly].
Some minor duping in I AM and I DO, AT WILL and AT RISK, and AH SO and AH AB. :-7
Favorite clues: [Sweater setting?] for SAUNA and [Spare tire settings] for WAISTS.
Solid puzzle if not too thrilling.
Sorry if this post is a bit disjointed. We were watching A Man Called Ove which I quite enjoyed. It starts out darkly funny but ends up in a sweet spot. Much recommended.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Rhymes at the Zoo” – Derek’s write-up
I got an alert from Matt G. that there was a “super-cute puzzle alert” for this one. I answered him before I started, indicating I had high hopes. I was NOT disappointed! Probably the cutest puzzle I have ever seen. Note the blurb before 1-Across that sets the stage:
- 1A [Note: Matt J. took his two kids to the zoo, where they came up with this theme (no, he doesn’t work at the zoo, just thought it’d be fun). Clues with an [E] were written by 67-Across, and clues with and [S] were written by 49-Across.]
Before I explain who the kids are, let me list the thematic entries (and there are six!):
- 17A [Fearsome cat that spends moolah on Lamborghinis and mansions?] [S] BUYIN’ LION
- 21A [Monkey that eats curtains?] [E] DRAPE APE
- 35A [Scaly creature that likes to eat frosted sweets?] [S] CUPCAKE SNAKE
- 42A [Bird that smokes and does vandalism?] [E] ILLEGAL EAGLE
- 56A [Water animal with flippers that barters 24/7?] [S] DEAL SEAL
- 64A [Slow animal that grows wings and gets in your clothes?] [E] MOTH SLOTH
I think we may have some budding puzzle-makers!! 67-Across turns out to be ELLA and 49-Across is his son SID. Needless to say, you should have solved this puzzle with a great big smile on your face. Why? The title calls this “a group effort for Take Your Kids to Work Day!” Awesome concept, hilarious clues, and literally a heartwarming puzzle. I am giving this one the full 5 stars!
I cannot and will not mention every clue, because there are too many good ones to mention and you should solve this puzzle yourself, but these four stand out to me:\
- 54A [Sid: I’m not __ years old anymore.” Me: “No, I mean __ as in ‘I __ some food.”] ATE – Wow. Sounds like every conversation I have ever had with my kids when they were young!
- 69A [Me: “How about the clue ‘Used needles,” Ella?” Ella: “No, new needles You have to use them because it affects the fabric more than you expect.”] SEWED – Double wow! I literally laughed out loud on this one. Best clue in the puzzle!
- 37D [ __ for “Ricky Bubwick” (apparently a name that Sid just made up)] “R” IS – Kids say the darndest things … !
- 56D [Parents “who do puzzled goodness”][S] DADS – Aww!! How cute is THAT???!!!
I was thoroughly entertained. It will now be a phenomenal week because of this puzzle! Have a great week, everybody!
Victor Barocas’ LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
We have circles! After solving 17A, you pretty much had an idea where the theme was going, but the revealer at 58A was still a clever surprise to me (again, the red letters are circled in the grid):
- 17A [Gadget used on carrots] VEGETABLE PEELER
- 28A [Deepwater Horizon catastrophe] GULF OIL SPILL
- 44A [Inhales] TAKES A BREATH
- 58A [Activity one might see at a circus … or in the Across answers containing circles?] SWORD SWALLOWING
I, personally, don’t like to guess what the last theme entry is going to be, even though it is clear it will be something that will tie everything together since it has no circled letters. I feel the solving experience is better that way. Perhaps you think differently. I also don’t like to guess endings of movie plots, so maybe it is just me! Crosswords are a form of entertainment, and I like to be entertained as much as possible. This puzzle entertained me to the tune of, oh, 3.9 stars worth!
This puzzle, unlike many LAT puzzles, seems to take an ever-so-slight drop in fill quality. OXEYE and IBEX are obviously common to solvers, but get a slight pass since they enable X’s in the grid. ARMLET isn’t great either, and you don’t often see the word PORN in a grid, likely due to a slightly negative connotation. Not that it shouldn’t be used, but only a couple of dozen NYT occurences. (ERIE has nearly 400.). 54A [CDX x V] MML may help the constructor, but math is hard! And yes, I put NES in at 61D [Nintendo console] WII, showing my age!
Maybe I am a little more acutely aware of the fill after the fill in Saturday’s puzzle didn’t seem to bother me much, while others found it less than stellar. But the half marathon is over, and I finished in 2:42! That time should drop drastically by June 3. I will keep you all posted! Enjoy your week.