Jacob Stulberg’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
I’m back! Many thanks to Laura for filling in for me last week!
This was one of my slowest Thursdays in a little while. I found both the clues and fill very hard, even after I figured out the theme.
So, to the theme: The revealer is at 59a, MT. EREBUS [Southernmost active volcano in the world … or a cryptic hint to certain squares in this puzzle]. Cryptic indeed!
The trick here is that MT. EREBUS can be re-parsed (note: this does not give you license to put REPARSED in your grids!) as MTE REBUS, which is exactly what three squares in this grid are: rebus squares containing the letters MTE. Like so:
- 20a, FORT SU(MTE)R [Site of a famous opening shot], crossing 6d, FAR(M TE)AM [AA group]. Both lovely entries, and both clues are extremely challenging! [Site of a famous opening shot] suggests the opening shot of a film perhaps, rather than the opening shot of a war. [AA group] misdirects toward Alcoholics Anonymous, rather than AA baseball (though maybe having the World Series on while solving ought to have helped).
- 30a, ASSA(M TE)A [Indian beverage], crossing 11d, WISDO(M TE)ETH [Ones down in the mouth?]. Both MTEs here are split across two words, which is beautiful. Both entries are excellent, and again, both clues are quite hard. ASSA(M TE)A was the first theme entry I figured out.
- 61a, TI(M TE)BOW [2007 Heisman winner who went on to play for the Broncos], crossing 34d, WILLIA(M TE)LL [Apple employer, once?]. Jacob and Will have clued TIM TEBOW fairly straightforwardly (sports names get this treatment for the most part), while the WILLIAM TELL clue is a bear. Again, two really great entries.
If I’m nitpicking, one thing I don’t love about this puzzle is that it requires the casual solver to know (or at least strongly favors the solver who knows) that multiple squares in a box is called a REBUS. You can certainly solve the puzzle without knowing that, but the cleverness of MT. EREBUS / MTE REBUS will be lost on any solver who doesn’t. Of course, you might argue that most Thursday NYT solvers are experts, but still: this is esoteric, even for an institution like the NYT crossword that is practically synonymous with esoterica.
That said, for the crossword insider, this is awesome. It’s clear that one day, Jacob noticed the MT. EREBUS / MTE REBUS duality and decided to make a puzzle out of it, and that “Hey-look-at-this-cool-thing-about-language!” impulse is, to me, what theme generation is all about. The MTE phrases are all super lively. The grid is 78 words/38 blocks, which allows the fill to be relatively clean despite a surprising amount of theme-related constraint (especially the NE and SW corners, which are wide open with long down entries but somehow manage to largely eschew junk).
There are some pretty tough crossings in this one, though nothing unacceptable for a Thursday. The one that I think is gonna break the most perfect streaks is the G in ELGART/GAMBIA. If you’re not up on your African geography and 1950s bandleaders, you might guess ELZART and ZAMBIA (which doesn’t have an Atlantic coastline).
Until next week!
Christopher Adam’s Fireball Crossword, “You Won’t See Me” – Jenni’s writeup
I’m sure I’m not the only one who had the song start up in my head as soon as I read the title. Despite that I didn’t completely suss out the theme until well after I’d finished the puzzle.
There are layers and layers. The most visible parts of the theme are a series of answers across the midsection of the elongated grid (it’s 14×20). 32a gives us [With 55-Across, viral trend of 2016] and the answer is the MANNEQUIN CHALLENGE. Sandwiched in between the two parts of that answer is 43a [#1 hit for Rae Sremmurd that’s the background music for 32-/55-across (and a hint to this puzzle’s theme)]. That’s BLACK BEATLES.
The title already suggested to me that the Beatles would make an appearance. Now I started looking for them in the black squares instead of the answers, and I found them!
The Fab Four are lurking in the black squares in the corners:
- 1a [Owner of Skywalker Ranch] is LUCAS.
- 11d [Eponym of the CIA headquarters] is BUSH. The square they share is GEORGE.
- 6a [He won a Tony for “Aida”] is ELTON.
- 14d [Three-time costar of Kal Penn] is CHO – this was the one that gave it away for me. When the clue has a full name, the answer should have a full name. It also seemed odd that the answers to 1a and 11d used last names, and 14d was a first name. That’s because the square that ends ELTON and begins CHO is hiding JOHN.
- 67d [Hall of Fame center who played for Vince Lombardi] is JIM. I had no idea who he was.
- 80a [Drummer for Los Lonely Boys] is GARZA. Also got that from crossings and had no idea. I had to figure out the Beatle by process of elimination – he’s RINGO. Even with the full names, JIM RINGO and RINGO GARZA ring no bells for me.
- 66d [2016 Republican presidential debate participant] is RAND.
- 81a [Voicer of Todd Chavez on “BoJack Horseman”] is, apparently, AARON. I’ve never heard of him but I do know that RAND‘s last name is PAUL, so that’s our fourth Beatle.
This is a layered, complex theme that required a lot of thought but eventually yielded. I imagine that it did not please people who struggle with proper names and pop culture; then again, it’s a Fireball crossword and I suspect those of us who subscribe know how Peter edits crosswords. I really liked it even with my ignorance of three of the theme names.
A few other things:
- 11a [Millinery container] is not the obvious HATBOX but rather BANDBOX. I’ve only heard that word in the idiomatic phrases describing a neat person as just having “stepped out of a bandbox” or describing a small enclosure as “a bandbox.” M-W has it as “a usually cylindrical box of cardboard or thin wood for holding light articles of attire.” OK, then.
- 6d [Surrey track town] is EPSOM, proving that my reading and re-reading of Dick Francis novels was not in vain.
- 41d [Japanese prime minister who offered “sincere and everlasting condolences” at Pearl Harbor in 2016] gives us a non-US definition for ABE.
- Poetry double-header: POETIC at 13a and DACTYL at 25.
- I like the way 38a [Kept tabs on a tabby, perhaps] sounds. CATSAT is also amusing.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: in addition to the aforementioned RINGOs, I did not know that Spinoza’s “Ethics” was written in Neo-Latin. I didn’t, in fact, know that Neo-Latin was a thing. Apparently the term can also be used to describe the Romance languages, at least according to Wikipedia.
I leave you with the puzzle’s title track.
Heidi Moretta’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Turning In” — Jim’s review
Phrases with IN in them have those two letters reversed.
- 17a [Fluids drawn in an alien’s prenatal test?] AMNIO ACIDS. Amino acids. So an alien is getting probed here. Shoe’s on the other foot now, innit?!
- 26a [Kin of percussion caps?] MUSICAL NITRO. …intro. Had a tough time with this one as I’d never heard of a percussion cap which was an invention allowing the reliable use of muzzle-loaded firearms in any weather. Knowing this now doesn’t make the clue any less opaque. I would’ve gone with something like [Number that’ll bring down the house?].
- 41a [Accommodations for statues of the Apostles?] TWELVE NICHES. …inches. I have to say that as a base phrase, “twelve inches” is about as bland as they come. I think it’s a little more of a thing than green paint, but not much more.
- 53a [Royal in a mauve sari?] PURPLE RANI. …Rain. This is the entry where I grokked the theme. Maybe that’s because it’s got the clue that makes the most sense.
A very workmanlike theme that, sadly for me, afforded no humor. By Thursday I’m hoping for something a little more intriguing or challenging. This just didn’t scratch that itch for me.
Fill-wise, RARE BREED makes for a fun entry, and I like FALSETTOS, but I didn’t know it was the title of a [1992 Broadway show that won Tonys for its book and score].
Other things I didn’t know that hampered me: Mars’ moon DEIMOS [Home of the Swift and Voltaire craters]. I know Phobos (as in Leather Goddesses of…), but not DEIMOS. Also, Seiji OZAWA [Levine’s predecessor at the Boston Symphony Orchestra] escaped my memory.
I liked seeing Van HEFLIN [Stanwyck’s “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” co-star] only because way back in high school I wrote a Dracula parody in which I replaced Van Helsing with Van Heflin.
Clues of note:
- 19a [Bean on the moon]. ALAN. ALAN Bean was the fourth person to walk on the moon as part of the second manned moon trip.
- 36a [Victors in the Battle of Dun Nechtain]. PICTS. I went with SCOTS at first here until 27d looked like it was going to be MESAS [Arizona license plate features] (it wasn’t; turned out to be CACTI). Set your Wayback Machine for 685 A.D. to learn about this battle between the PICTS and the Northumbrians. The Pictish king feigned a retreat, luring the Northumbrians into a narrow valley in which they were ambushed. The Northumbrian king was slain along with most of his army. That was a pretty sneaky move by the Pictish king. One could say he was a dick Pict.
- 25d [Linus Pauling’s alma mater]. CALTECH. Continuing my struggles in the center of the grid was the fact that I didn’t know where this gentleman had gone to school; for some reason he’s not in my database of famous people and their respective educational institutions. Of course, failing to recognize his name as that of a noted scientist didn’t help me, either.
Overall, I enjoyed most of the fill in this puzzle though I felt somewhat mired down by trivia in places. The theme, though, felt rather staid.
I’ve seen I’M A MAN [1955 Bo Diddley song] a number of times in crosswords, so let’s check out the original.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Monsters’ Call” — Ben’s Review
Everybody ready for Halloween? Yes, it’s not officially until Tuesday, but all the parties/events/etc in my area seem to be happening Saturday/Sunday. Maybe we need to update the official definition there to “last Friday in October” like we do with Thanksgiving. Anyways, BEQ’s given us the requisite Halloween-themed puzzle this year with “Monsters’ Call”:
- 18A: Tube steak that spent time under a Swingline? — STAPLED DOG
- 24A: Things guaranteed to get a laugh during a slalom? — COMEDY SKI BOOTS
- 36A: Fresnel hidden behind a curtain? — SHOW LIGHT UNSEEN
- 50A: “Whaddya know! It’s empty!”? — THIS SUCKER’S OUT
- 57A: Single image of a 2016 Disney flick? — MOANA FRAME
There’s a nice meta mention that “Haunted house noises, for this puzzle at least” is the THEME, but on a whole this felt a little underwhelming and half-baked, as theme answers though. Some of these needed better footholds in the cluing, especially given some tricky crossings.
(Play the RAC mix of Werewolf Bar Mitzvah at your Halloween party or only play the 30 second version of the chorus)
Keeping it brief today since I’ve got a heck of a lot of meetings.
Mark McClain’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
You know how this works. One word clue [FAN] is answered by dictionary definitions that are tortured to fit into 15 letters for some reason. The fun is guessing the constructor’s awkward phrasing. A RANGEHOODDEVICE and a GEISHACCESSORY both are blowy things. An ARDENTSUPPORTER is indeed a [FAN]. I don’t have the energy to try and figure out what GODOWNONSTRIKES is trying to communicate.