Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 324), “Going Into a Tailspin”—Janie’s take
The title tells the tale and (spoiler alert!) there’s no aviation-disaster scenario involved. Instead, the tail (end) word of each theme phrase goes into a spin (gets all mixed up) or, as the reveal at 40A. so neatly puts it: JUMBLED [Anagrammed (like the back sections of 17-A, 63-A, 11-D and 30-D)]. Not only is each themer strong fill in its own right, as a set they represent a lively cross-section of cultural references / association triggers. And…the four anagrams—all six-letter items (including one proper name)—are the only ones that can be made with this group of letters. (Okay. You can maybe eke out another by using an apostrophe, but you’d be hard pressed to find a phrase that’s in the language for context.) Here’s how it plays out:
- 17A. TOTAL RECALL [“Memorable” 1990 Schwarzenegger flick]. Nice clue for this one, too. And along the same lines (though today it’s clued as [Keepsake]), there’s also MEMENTO, the Guy Pearce MOVIE that deals as well with the idiosyncrasies of memory.
- 63A. STEVE CARELL [“The Office” star]. Gotta say, he’s one actor who always surprises me for the range of roles—both comedic and serious, sympathetic and un-— that he conveys convincingly.
- 11D. WINE CELLAR [Storage area for reds and whites]. Or in my case, the cabinet and the refrigerator… ;-)
- 30A. NAME-CALLER [Mudslinging type]. Hmmm. So, uh, whatever became of the first lady’s anti-bullying agenda?…
This well-executed theme is well-met in the remainder of the fill, where a lot of longer and mid-range entries add to the quality of the solve. The Peruvian origin of the humble LIMA BEAN is more interesting than its role as a [Succotash bit] might suggest; and while ELEVEN A.M. may not be ideal fill, that suggestion of [Brunch time, perhaps] puts an appealing spin on it. The cascading DINED ON, JUMBLED and MINARET get good support from MEMENTO and ROMANOV, SPAMMER and TAVERNS, MODULAR and OPTED IN. I also like the stacked sixes at top and bottom: BERING and ALICIA, ISAIAH and SELENA. The placement of all of these sixes and sevens in the grid gives me the feeling of a taut, very muscular construction.
And one with some wordplay going on, too, as [Keys on the piano?] for ALICIA, [Diesel on the screen] for VIN and [Online junk dealer?] for SPAMMER demonstrate. Ditto [Critics picks?] for NITS. My NITS for today? Both RICIN and its clue [Toxin derived from castor beans]. That’s what RICIN is, of course, but (even with its lethal properties which should certainly keep it on our do-not-ingest-this list) is this a word most of us know, let alone use in everyday conversation? Is there anything appealing in the thought of toxins? from castor beans (even when the beans can apparently be put to very practical use)? Whoops. And there’s that LIMA BEAN/castor beans dupe (although I think more solvers than editors are sensitive to this type of clue/fill overlap [ymmv]).
Which brings me to the end of this week’s post. Or almost—because I’d rather end on a higher note and realize I neglected to include the punny [Reel thing?] MOVIE and [Head lock?] CURL combos among the puzzle’s wordplay smile-makers. Where the latter is concerned, no wrestling involved! Hope you’ll have a hassle-free week and one that gives you the time to do what *you* wanna do. Which, of course, also means that I hope you’ll find the time to keep solving!
Nancy Cole Stuart’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “TV Service”—Laura’s write-up
Our theme today is three TV shows, the titles of which begin with the rank of a service member in the US Army. Thus,
- [17a: CBS kids program from 1955 to 1984]: CAPTAIN KANGAROO
- [32a: ABC soap opera from 1963 to the present]: GENERAL HOSPITAL
- [49a: ABC medical drama from 2007 to 2013]: PRIVATE PRACTICE
Nice find: three 15-letter titles that have the same 7/8 pattern. A theme like this tends to [12d: Kindle] AROUSE my interest in some additional twist. I feel like I’ve seen military-rank themes where the character/title is “promoted” (i.e. MAJOR KANGAROO) or “demoted” (i.e. COLONEL HOSPITAL) — which could lead to wackier cluing. Or switch them around? [Rehearsal time for Shatner and Mulgrew?]: CAPTAIN PRACTICE. [A marsupial of one’s own?]: PRIVATE KANGAROO.
The trend in the WSJ, I’m noticing, is less contemporary fill; PRIVATE PRACTICE, which ended its run in 2013, is the most recent cultural reference. We have [27d: 1978 NBA MVP Bill] for WALTON, instead of, say, WalMart founder Sam or British fantasy author Jo. Trying to (pedantically) parse the clue for PATRIOTIC [30d: Like country fans?] — because patriotic people are fans of their countries? Shouldn’t that be “As country fans” — i.e. in the manner of people who are fans of their countries? As opposed to “Similar to people who are also fans of country music.” [39d: Just] SIMPLY asking.
I love this song: [15a: 1966 hit “Walk Away ___”]: RENEE by The Left Banke. It has been covered by tons of other artists, including Cyndi Lauper, The Four Tops, Billy Bragg, and (rather sweatily) Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.
Zhouqin Burnikel ‘s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up
A zingy little Tuesday puzzle!
We have collection of collectors for our theme.
- 18a [Stamp collector?] is a PASSPORT.
- 28a [Record collector?] is the GUINNESS BOOK. When I was in high school, the librarian held a reference scavenger hunt every year to demonstrate all the resources we had. She gave a copy of the GUINNESS BOOK of World Records to the winner. After the second year, she made me retire from the field.
- 45a [Bill collector?] is a CASH REGISTER.
- 57a [Shell collector?] is a PASTA BAR.
This would have been more obvious if I hadn’t made a typo in 7d that made the first theme entry look like it started with a B. Once I corrected it, the theme was clear. I enjoyed it. GUINNESS BOOK is a smidgen awkward all by itself; the others are in the language and the theme hangs together well.
Other things I noticed:
- I got the answer to 3d [Rousing audience response, informally] from crossings and couldn’t figure out who STAN DINGO was. It is, of course, STANDING O.
- 8d [Cuisine with tom kha gai soup]. Yum. Now I want THAI food.
- 10d [Places serving salades et sandwiches] is a BISTRO. Not sure why this is signaled as French; I think of BISTRO as an English word as well.
- 38a [Who famously said “I’m not a crook”] was RICHARD NIXON, who in retrospect doesn’t look that bad. No, I take it back; he still looks pretty bad. In 1974, my mother said “I can’t watch Richard Nixon any more because he sounds so much like Rich Little.” She never did understand why we laughed at that.
- 34d [Final and unhappy outcome] is BITTER END, which reminds me of one of the very funny West Wing scenes featuring the NYT crossword puzzle. This one is in the cold open of “Dead Irish Writers.”
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that MISS TEEN USA is connected to the Miss Universe pageant.
The only West Wing crossword scene I could find on YouTube is not the relevant one, but it’s still amusing. Kudos to anyone who can identify the stray few seconds at the beginning.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “A Little Bit Country” – Derek’s write-up
The flavortext after the title says “but only in the very last bit.” And that is what has changed in this puzzle’s theme answers:”the very last bit” of several common phrases has had the last letter changed to make it a country. A little silly, but it seems to work:
- 17A [Country kitchen implement?] SALAD TONGA (salad tongs)
- 35A [Country actreess with famous acting siblings?] ZSA ZSA GABON (Zsa Zsa Gabor)
- 43A [Country baseball squad?] CHICAGO CUBA (Chicago Cubs) – Go Cubbies!
- 64A [Country action star?] JACKIE CHAD (Jackie Chan)
I told you it was a bit silly. I am not going to brainstorm, but I imagine it would be difficult to find many countries where you can change the last letter and come up with a usable word. Germane is the only example that pops into my mind, and you certainly cannot do the same with, say, Uzbekistan! Clever theme, but not quite the normal punny reaction from me. 3.7 stars.
A few more notes, including some obscure trivia:
- 20A [1800, in movie credits that didn’t exist back then] MDCCC – This is a clever clue, and certainly much better than Roman numeral math!
- 29A [The Sklar brothers, e.g.] DUO – Who are the Sklar brothers, you ask? I had to look it up! They are identical twin comedians. They look familiar, but I couldn’t tell you where I know them from. Bonus fact: they went to Michigan! Go Blue!
- 51A [“Middle of Nowhere” director DuVernay] AVA – Also the director of Selma and the Netflix documentary 13th, both of which were excellent.
- 61A [“Your Song” singer Ora] RITA – I actually know who this is, Matt! But not this particular song! That’s on me, though, as Spotify has it at over 125 million plays! I DO know this one:
- 1D [“[X] __ like …” (picture-based meme)] HAS ME – I thought this was HAD ME. I’ve seen memes with both … ?
- 12D [“Full Frontal” host Samantha] BEE – I have seen MANY videos from this show on Facebook, which is weird because I have no idea what channel it originally airs on or what day! (It’s on TBS, but I can’t tell when!)3
- 31D [Tobias’s daughter on “Arrested Development”] MAEBY – I have seen a few episodes of this show. It is really funny. On Netflix!
Back to the work week. See you next week for another Jonesin’!
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
It has been forever since I have blogged one of C.C.’s puzzles! And by forever, I mean like a week or two! She is back at it with another clever yet simple theme (again, I will use red to denote the circled letters in the grid):
- 16A [“Baywatch” star] DAVID HASSELHOFF
- 22A [Pull-out money holder] CASH DRAWER
- 49A [Poker table experts] CARD SHARKS
- 59A [Like football linemen] BROAD SHOULDERED
And there, of course, is a revealer in the middle!
- 37A [Frantic rush, and what’s literally found in each set of puzzle circles] MAD DASH
I said it was simple, yet clever! A great puzzle to introduce people to crosswords, I would think! A solid 4.2 stars for this one, another in C.C.’s rapidly growing portfolio.
Just a couple of things:
- 1A [Arizona site of Sun Devil Stadium] TEMPE – I have been there! Almost went to college out there. I should have …
- 44A [How pastrami is often ordered] ON RYE – I don’t think I have ever entered a deli and uttered these words, but I have had the Subway version, and it is pretty good!
- 10D [Publicly state one’s views] GO ON RECORD – Excellent. Not surprisingly, no NYT hits at all.
- 28D [Big name in music streaming] SOUNDCLOUD – I know what this is, even if it doesn’t seem that “big” to me!
- 30D [“Mortal Kombat” agent __ Blade] SONYA – Is there any other Sonya with a name spelled this way? Probably not, and I don’t know this Sonya either!
- 51D [Vacation spot near Curaçao] ARUBA – My dream vacation spot. One of these days!!
*** Addendum: I didn’t realize until this morning that she had the NYT puzzle today, too! Pay particular attention to 42-Down! ***
That is all. See you on Saturday!