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Eric Berlin’s New York Times crossword, “The Magic Show”—Laura’s write-up
Theme entries are types of magic tricks, which are literal clues what’s going on with other entries in the puzzle:
- [23a: Magic trick performed at 78-Down]: VANISHING COIN
- [78d: Provide part of a coverage policy for]: CO-INSURE (but the COIN has “vanished”).
- [47a: Magic trick performed at 119-Across and 104-Down]: LINKING RINGS
- [119a: Skinny sort]: STRING BEAN and [104d: Vaccine holder]: SYRINGE are “linked” by the rebused RING.
- [67a: Magic trick performed at 123- and 124-Across]: SAWING A LADY IN HALF
- [123a: First name in jazz]: ELLA and [124a: Bad: Prefix]: DYS contain the word LADY, which a black square is “sawing in half.”
- [91a: Magic trick performed at 55-Across]: CHANGING CARD
- [55a: ___ duck (Chinese entree)]: PEACE instead of PEKING.
- [115a: Magic trick performed at 15-, 16- and 17-Across]: LEVITATING MAN
- The first letters of [15d: English lengths]: METRES, [16d: Baseball’s Hank]: AARON, and [17a: Physicist Bohr]: NIELS — M, A, and N — are “levitating” above the grid, so instead we have ETRES, ARON, and IELS. (This is where I figured out there was something going on; I knew Hank wasn’t ARON like Elvis’s unofficial middle name, and I always remember NIELS Bohr because my friend John used to always check in at a place called Neil’s Bahr in Houston.)
I appreciated how this theme made me work a little to get it, which is opposite to the way I feel about magic tricks — I like the mystery to be preserved, and I have very little interest in finding out how magicians actually trick people. Apparently many of these tricks have different variations and are known by other names (“Asrah Levitation,” “The French Drop,” etc.) but we have their generic terms here.
ELLA [123a: First name in jazz] Fitzgerald sings “That Old Black Magic.”
Fill-wise, we’ve got some freshness with longer downs SVENGALI [28d: Manipulative type], ACE AWARD [51d: Onetime honor for cable TV shows], and MR CLEAN [8d: Advertising icon who wears a single earring]. We’ve got EERO, OTOE, ELI, and ISA, not the crème DE LA crème by a long shot, but nothing that made me want to punch the PANELING [49d: Décor of many dens].
What I didn’t know before solving this puzzle: I’d never heard [97a: Eight-line poems] called TRIOLETS (and I’ve taught poetry!), nor was I familiar with [93d: New York archbishop Timothy] DOLAN.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Unnecessary Roughness” – Erin’s writeup
Today we are greeted with happy (or miserable, depending on whether you’re a meta fan) news: “METAPUZZLE: What adjective is hinted at by this puzzle?” Theme entries are:
- 25a. [Educational setting whose workers may have earned master’s degrees in education] GRADE SCHOOL
- 27a. [Genetic unit that you learn about in a biology class] X CHROMOSOME
- 45a. [Phrase uttered while pointing to an area where a person is supposed to stand] RIGHT THERE
- 49a. [Appellation associated with a logo and often heard in radio] BRAND NAME
- 68a. [Put on a confusing or maybe even a completely wrong path] LEAD ASTRAY
- 70a. [Cut ties gradually, as with a close friend or a family member] GROWN APART
- 90a. [Light hair color that one may choose as a hair dye at the salon] ASH BLONDE
- 95a. [Long jumper who represented America during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles] CAROL LEWIS
- 115a. [Political coalition that often draws support from liberal constituents and trade unions] LABOUR PARTY
- 118a. [Mangled, as a soda can or a piece of paper] SCRUNCHED UP
The “unnecessary roughness” hinted at by the title seems to refer to the theme clues at first; they are long and seem to contain unneeded information. What else in the puzzle could be considered unnecessary? Each theme entry can lose a letter and still fit its clue. The educational setting of 25a. can be GRADE SCHOOL, but GRAD SCHOOL would also be correct. Reading the unnecessary letter from each theme entry left to right and top to bottom gives us EXTRANEOUS, our fitting meta answer.
CAROL LEWIS gave away the meta mechanism for me. She did well for herself as a long jumper, but all I could think of is why the entry was too long for CARL LEWIS, her brother.
- 89d. [Telly’s friend on kids’ TV] ELMO. I loved Telly on Sesame Street as a child, probably because I identified with his anxiety. Also, his initial puppet, when the show introduced him as Television Monster, is creeeeeepy.
- 42a. [Strip machines] SLOTS. The Las Vegas Strip.
- 38a. [National defense figure, say?] RELIEVER. Nice hidden capital directing the solver away from the baseball slant.
Until next week!
Paul Coulter’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Past Due” — Jim’s review
Jim here, sitting in for vacationing Amy.
My first thought from the title was that I was going to need to know my Italian numbers from tre onwards. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.
Fiend regular Paul Coulter brings us phrases where a present-tense verb is changed to past tense and then clued as its homonym.
- 22a [Chant by lumberyard workers during a lockout?] LONG TIME NO SAW. See. Cute.
- 37a [Citi Field shortstop or second baseman?] MET IN THE MIDDLE. Meet. Hmm. The past tense phrase is an actual phrase, unlike most of the others.
- 53a [Timid FBI agent?] CHICKEN FED. Feed. Another cutie.
- 67a [Bunch of cattle reading menus?] DROVE IN RESTAURANT. Drive. I think it’s pretty rare to see “drove” on its own. A “drove of cattle” would seem more common to me, but I may very easily be wrong.
- 83a [One evoking yawns on an Alaskan island?] KODIAK BORE. Bear. Another outlier but for a different reason. All the other words in question are verbs (see, meet, feed, drive…) — well, not feed technically, but it’s closely related to the verb form. “Bear” on the other hand, as used in the original phrase, is not related to the verb “bear” in any way.
- 97a [Help when it’s time to give up?] LENT ASSISTANCE. Lend. Again, the past tense phrase is a valid phrase.
- 119a [Provide with surfacing material, as a pool parlor?] GET THE FELT FOR. Feel. Not the strongest of entries to finish off with. And the cluing seems awkward.
So hit-and-miss for me, but on the whole, I felt that these worked and I enjoyed the wordplay and humor. I think I was charmed by the first one and that lasted through to completion.
But there are also plenty of gluey bits. That entire NE corner looks like a bowl of alphabet soup: ESO next to ESSO next to SAAR next to ENSE. Yeesh! Down south, there’s SFPD and ESS crossing DPS and SDS. Double yeesh!
The rest of the crud was scattered about: APAL, OPP, ETRE, ETS, ELAM, ARNO, SSR, ETS, etc. And I’m still cringing at the crossing of 43a OPA [WWII org. that froze food costs] and 35d SPAHN [Hall of Fame pitcher Warren]. If you’re going to cross OPA with a little-used proper name, at least give us the Greek exclamation clue, not an “org.” that could be almost any one of 26 different letters. For the record, O.P.A. stands for Office of Price Administration. Ouch. That’s…not good.
And that’s a lot of glue, but honestly, during the solve, it felt mostly contained, and I was enjoying the grid. Things like PAGODA, FENNEL, DILEMMA, ASSUAGE, etc. made up for most of the trouble areas.
A few notes:
- 34a ACRED [Like real estate moguls]. Really? Is that a real word and is that how you use it?
- 11d NEWGATE [Historic London prison]. Honestly, I’m not familiar with this one. It was in use from 1188 to 1902 and demolished in 1904. However, I did know “The Clink” was a prison in London, south of the Thames near The Globe theatre. Unfortunately, THE CLINK didn’t fit in the grid.
- I also didn’t know IAN (84d, [“At Seventeen” singer Janis]) or SAKI (69d, [Storytelling pseudonym]). SAKI is the pen name of British writer H. H. Munro, of whom I have heard.
- Favorite reference: 104a [Sarducci in early “SNL” skits]. GUIDO. A gimme for me. Growing up Catholic, if felt subversive seeing him on SNL. So naturally, we kids always enjoyed it when he came on. I wonder if my parents ever knew he wasn’t a real priest. I just learned he made an appearance on The Colbert Report.
Overall, lots of crosswordese in the short fill, but the long fill is nice and the theme has good wordplay. 3.5 stars from me.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s CRooked crossword, “Doubling Back” — pannonica’s write-up
Sequence: (1) filling in grid, as usual, roughly from top left to overall bottom, (2) arrive at first nonsensical theme answer, look at title, completely misinterpret theme mechanism and think vaguely disparaging thoughts about the puzzle, (3) continue solving, recognize actual theme, (4) modify opinion regarding theme.
- 21a. [Dam builder who loves Bob Marley?] REGGAE BEAVER. See that unusual A-E-B-E-A palindromic string? I sure did. “Meh.”
- 31a. [Problem for some Kurds?] SUNNI’S HEADACHE. Huh? What? And this coming off of 40d [Hole in the head?] which relievedly turned out not to be CRANIA but CAVITY. Anyway, the original here was sinus headache and the first word has been reversed and had a letter doubled. Hence the title. See also 33d [Bayer rival] ALEVE, which is somewhat problematic as Aleve (generic: naproxen) is marketed by Bayer; “Bayer” isn’t necessarily synonymous with Bayer aspirin, which I suppose is their flagship product. Walking back, 21-across is spun from eager beaver.
- 45a. [Golf area in Texas?] DALLAS GREEN (salad …). Original is usually in the plural.
- 66a. [Candies floating among personalized squeezed fruit drinks?] SWEETS IN ONE’S OWN JUICES (stews …).
- 81a. [Vinyl that’s been freshly soaked and cleaned?] TUBBED ALBUM (début …). Tubbed?!
- 100a. [Shake some pasta?] WOBBLE MACARONI (elbow …).
- 112a. [Find fault with a Waco university?] NIGGLE BAYLOR (Elgin …). Texas again? Also: 47d [Texas port city] LAREDO (it’s an inland port, the largest in the US).
So that turned out to be rather interesting.
- 1a [Wipe clean] SCRUB, 106a [Whiteboard cleaner] ERASER.
- 12a [Psych rock instruments] SITARS crossed by 14d [Foot gunk] TOE JAM.
(Album released in 1969, the same year as Abbey Road, which leads off with “Come Together“.
- 26a [Relating to the wind] EOLIAN. I would’ve thought that aeolian is the more common variant, but m-w.com tells me otherwise. I won’t harp on the issue.
- 28a [With 95 Across, “I kid you not” sayer] JACK | PAAR. This I did not know. Apparently it originated, or at least was first popularized in Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny.
- 56a [Rappers __ Sremmund] RAE. Obviously reverses to drummer’s ear, but unrelated to the theme. UPDATE: apparently it’s EarDrummers. Go figure.
- 57a [Brit. awards] MBES, in which, ah, the B stands for British.
- 68d [WWII fascist] NAZI, 91a [Allow to happen] ENABLE.
- 108a [Friendly prefix] ECO-, 31d [Dino’s tail?] -SAUR, 110d [New start?] NEO-. Note how two have question marks, as they don’t explicitly mention an affix.
- 120a [Jungle fly] TSETSE. Certainly not exclusively.
- 5d [Indian fritter] BHAJI. I have trouble remembering this one.
- 36d [Word seen by a proof-reader?] ERGO. Great clue, but I had ERAT first.
- 65d [Indoor soccer sport] FUTSAL; had the not-spelled-correctly FUSBOL first.
- 62d [Light anchor] KEDGE. New to me.
- Favorite clue: 20d [Support staff?] CANE. No, wait. Second favorite. Still prefer 36d.